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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Training To Extremes - Exercise Addiction and the Importance of Rest Days

Training To Extremes - Exercise Addiction and the Importance of Rest Days

Many wheelchair users, particularly if they are athletes who need to keep themselves in top physical condition for sports like curling, can take their fitness regimes to unhealthy extremes if not careful. While fitness and the preservation of muscle tone is vital if you want to stay at the top of their game, there is a growing tendency for people to overdo it. This is particularly pertinent for wheelchair users, who often (erroneously) believe that they need to work twice as hard as an athlete without a wheelchair in order to gain a physique capable of playing sports like curling. For some, exercise and fitness can become an overriding obsession, which – far from bringing body and mind into peak condition – has an extremely detrimental effect upon both. An association called ‘ABIDE’, which studies and combats issues people have with body image has spoken with concern about the growing trend for people to attempt to control their bodies and define themselves through the sport they play, and the exercise they do to aid that sport. Of course, any sportsperson naturally takes a pride in their team, their involvement in the sport, and their athletic ability – but when taken too far it can have a seriously negative effect. ‘Exercise Addiction’ is a growing problem, and one which has claimed the career of many a promising curler.

Rest And Fitness

Everybody, from academic human biologists to experienced personal trainers at gyms agree that, while exercise is an absolutely vital part of the fitness process, its effects are processed during the body during rest-hours. Exercise involves the stretching and contracting of the muscles, which causes micro-tears in the protein strands from which the muscles are formed. When healing these tears, the body takes care to increase the density of the protein strands to in order to decrease the likelihood of such injury happening again. In so doing, of course, it also metabolize fat to ease the process. Thus muscle mass grows, and the body becomes leaner, trimmer, and fitter. However, this only occurs during times of rest. Similarly, when exercising the brain takes in a lot of information regarding what it is being asked to do, and how it is achieving this – what works, what does not work, and how performance can be improved. This information it stores, ready to go through, arrange to its satisfaction, and learn from at a more convenient moment – i.e. when you are at rest. The implications are astonishingly clear – without adequate rest, not only will your body be unable to replenish and improve its physical condition, your brain will lack the opportunity to develop the kind of motor skills and reflexes which are especially vital for a sport like wheelchair curling. Most fitness gurus and authors recommend at least one day of rest between particularly strenuous workouts - during which the athlete should try to obtain massages, take in plenty of nutrients, and sleep as long and well as they can in order to aid the fitness process.

Exercise Addiction

If the notion of taking a rest day is troubling to you, however, it may be a sign that you are overtraining, and becoming dependent upon or even addicted to exercise. This is a troubling syndrome which is still but poorly understood by science and psychiatry – but reports suggest that it is on the rise. Nobody is entirely sure what causes it. Some suggest that the ‘natural high’ caused by exercise triggers opioid receptors in the brain – a reaction  to which excessive exercisers may become addicted, just as they would to substances like heroin which cause the brain to react in similar ways. Others argue that there is insufficient evidence for this. Some researchers and psychiatric professionals point instead to body image issues and feelings of potential inadequacy – exercise may be seen by the suffering individual as a means of self-improvement or validation, and may be undertaken excessively and compulsively in order to offset perceived bodily imperfections. Wheelchair users may be particularly vulnerable to body-image issues, putting wheelchair athletes and fitness aficionados at risk of developing an exercise dependency.

Symptoms of Overtraining

It is hard to categorize an exercise addiction. One particularly pertinent warning sign is if the individual in question seems to find a lack of exercise extremely stressful, yet does not seem particularly fulfilled by the exercise itself. Addicts may also have perpetually sore muscles, their physical performance will decrease, and, contradictory though it may seem, they might put on weight as their body attempts to protect itself from the exercise onslaught. Similarly, muscle mass may actually diminish as muscles are worn away by overuse and a lack of time to replenish. Exercise addicts will appear drained, and may well find themselves vulnerable to all kinds of bugs and infections as their body sucks resources from the immune system in order to keep itself going. If this sounds familiar – then treat yourself to a rest day. A good rule of thumb is to take one rest day for every two high-intensity training sessions. Your body, your mind, and your sport will all thank you for it! 

Submitted by Imogen

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