An interesting debate popped up on Carrots ‘N’ Cake the other day about how much exercise is too much and what constitutes exercise addiction. The debate arose in response to Jillian Michaels telling Self magazine that anybody who exercises for more than six hours a week “definitely may have an exercise addiction.”
Things got a little heated, with some commenters turning it into a personal attack on the blogger’s lifestyle. Personal attacks aside, it made for an interesting read and really got me thinking about what distinguishes the dedicated exerciser from the addict.
Generally speaking, I agree with Jillian that anyone who exercises for more than six hours a week is likely overdoing it. I realize there are some people – professional or recreational athletes, marathoners or fitness professionals, for example - who often work out for over an hour a day but I’m talking about the average person who works out to look good and stay healthy. I just don’t see how anyone with a full-time job and/or a family to raise could find time to work out for more than six hours a week, even if they genuinely wanted to, without neglecting other areas of their lives.
Back when I was living the dream of part-time employment, I occasionally worked out twice a day but that was because I literally had nothing better to do. Now that I work full-time, getting an hour of physical activity most days a week takes a lot of planning and commitment.
Which brings me to an interesting comparison that came up a few times in the discussion – if exercise is really just an enjoyable hobby like some fitness enthusiasts claim, why are people waking up at the crack of dawn to do it? With most hobbies, you find time to do them, you don’t plan your life around them.
Personally, I think this is an invalid argument because unlike knitting or reading, exercise is necessary for your health and physical appearance, which is what distinguishes it from other hobbies. I enjoy working out but would I do it six days a week if it didn’t have so many physical benefits? Probably not. There are days when I don’t feel like going to the gym but I go anyway because I know it’s good for me after sitting in a chair for eight hours. On those days, it sucks but it’s only an hour and I usually feel good once I get started.
But exercise differs from other hobbies in another important way – too much of it can harm your body. This is another reason why I can’t fathom doing much more than six hours a week. Your body needs rest to recover and, for me, that just wouldn’t be possible without a rest day or two.
Despite these distinctions, exercise does have one thing in common with other hobbies – it can turn into an unhealthy obsession if it gets in the way of other aspects of your life. Are you bailing on friends so you can get in a workout? Do you avoid making plans at specific times because that’s when you usually go to the gym? Exercise is important, but it shouldn’t be the number one priority in your life. I’m pretty dedicated to sticking to my scheduled workouts, but I’ll cancel or re-schedule a workout to hang with a friend I haven’t seen in awhile or if other, more important responsibilities get in the way.
Which brings me to my final point – how do you feel when you miss a workout? I think this is the best way to determine whether you fall into the “dedicated” or “obsessed” camp. If missing a workout fills you with great anxiety or guilt, you’re probably veering towards the crazy side of the spectrum. If you work out either for fun or for health, or some combination of the two, then a missed workout should be mildly disappointing, not life shattering. You’ll get to do it the next day, after all.
That being said, I do think there are those who are too lazy or lack the commitment to work out regularly who will cast aspersions on the habitual exerciser to make themselves feel better.
If you exercise regularly, you’ve likely encountered this type – they’ll call you obsessed or imply that you don’t have a life because of how often you work out. But as long as you know you’re not overtraining or neglecting other areas of your life for the sake of fitness, I say ignore these people and keep doing you.
So those are my two cents. What do you think?
What distinguishes the dedicated exerciser from the addict? Barring special circumstances, is someone who works out for more than six hours a week overdoing it?