When Exercise Hurts You: Compulsive exercise and the value of science-backed programs


Can you exercise too much?

The short answer is, yes.

Compulsive exercise – defined as an “excessive and uncontrollable need to exercise” and which “results in negative consequences” – generally affects individuals who have other psychosocial challenges, such as disordered eating, obsessive compulsive disorder, and clinical perfectionism. Highly competitive athletes who need to focus on ability and performance, and body type and weight may also be susceptible to this kind of addictive movement.

Compulsive exercise can look like many things, but some of the main giveaways are, exercising for excessive periods and despite illness or injury; feeling guilt, depression or anxiety if you weren’t able to exercise; using exercise to allow eating or to compensate for caloric intake; and/or dismissing important events for exercise or training.

There isn’t much research on compulsive exercise, as it hasn’t yet been recognized as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, doctors do see prevalence in patients, since exercising compulsively can lead to chronic bone and joint pain, persistent fatigue, upper respiratory infections, worsening and compounded injuries, loss of menstrual cycle and more.

Keeping your doctor informed about your exercise habits, letting them know if you’re starting a new exercise regimen, and working with a professional trainer are all good ways to help keep you on a healthy path.

Science Time

These days, there are obviously tons of exercise programs online. Many of them are good; some are not. And no average, one-size-fits-all exercise video will take into account your unique needs, goals, health status, body type, or ability. Going to a gym and working with a personal trainer used to be the go-to, but since the pandemic, things are changing.

Many of us are signing up for a science-backed online program or app, stocking their home gym, and getting results from exercise programs tailored to who you are and what you need.

A good trainer will take into account your current weight, BMI, activity level, and existing health issues or old injuries, as well as your schedule, goals, body type, and more. They create and adapt an exercise program that suit you as an individual, reduce the risk of injury, and set you up for success.

Good apps or paid online programs should do the same, allowing you to adapt workouts, recipes, etc., to your needs and goals.

Why Exercise?

“People would always say to me, ‘Exercise? Come on. Scientifically, you can’t come up with a mechanism, so it’s a complete waste of time,'” says Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a genetic neurologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., in an article in Time. “But as time goes on, paper after paper after paper shows that the most effective, potent way that we can improve quality of life and duration of life is exercise.”

The article goes on to state that “only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, [and] more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise whatsoever.”

So exercise is good, yes. The best, actually. But most of us suffer from a) lack of motivation; b) lack of knowledge or know-how; and, c) no accountability. All of this together means we may start to exercise (when a new year rolls around, for example) but quickly fizzle out, or when we don’t get the results we want, or we get injured because we push ourselves too hard or are using poor form. The result? We end up back on the couch watching Netflix, a drink and a bag of Twizzlers in hand.

Benefits of a Program

There are many great trainers, apps and online programs that are researched, carefully planned, and backed by science to give you the most for your effort and money. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, one of the biggest benefits of an app is motivation and accountability. Apps can also help you condense your workouts so they fit into your daily life, and are accessible anywhere – even if you’re travelling.

People who are new to exercise may also find gyms daunting, worried they’ll look like they don’t know what they’re doing. An app takes the stress out of it.

The online workout world exploded during COVID-19. A story in The Washington Post reported that, “From January through November of 2020, approximately 2.5 billion health and fitness apps were downloaded worldwide, according to data from Sensor Tower — a 47 percent jump from the same period in 2019.”

An App a Day…

FitTrack’s brand new premium app, MyHealth works with our FitTrack scales, and is backed by science. Using advanced dual BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) technology, FitTrack scales record and report 17 different health metrics, actually capturing data from inside and between your cells. The readings are then sent back to the scale and run through the FitTrack algorithm, which calculates your body’s composition accurately, reliably, and consistently. And all FitTrack scales are FDA registered. We give you the information you need to improve your health – both physically and mentally, giving you the power to control your program to suit your needs, and your overall definition of health.

The MyHealth app offers science-backed workouts based on your goals, and that work in conjunction with the metrics determined by your scale. Personal trainers tackle everything from ‘fit and lean’ to power workouts, to ‘body and mind fitness.’ You can create a meal plan, tracking things like protein, macros and calories. And you can see how the way you eat, sleep and move impact your health.

And a study in the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine found that fitness apps can be as effective as the gym in terms of caloric expenditure.

A gym is there for you when you’re at the gym. An app, on the other hand, is wherever you are, whenever you need it, monitoring and tracking your progress, offering support and education, and customizable workouts that are ready whenever you are.

The digital world may be criticized for keeping us glued to our phones and couches, but it also brings you science-backed, proven health and wellness programs designed to help you live your best life.