Exercise is BAD: Part 1

“That which harms the body, heals the body.”

I recently attended a workshop on fascia and how it operates within the body (the workshop was called Jiu-Jitsu Therapy and run by the extremely knowledgable Brian Wong), and the beginning of the four-hour long training started with a slide showing the above quote.

I love this quote.

After showing the slide, Brian talked about how the very Jiu-Jitsu holds that are meant to inflict pain (hellooooo arm bar!!) can actually be used to help people with fascia-related soreness and pain.  Perception, motivation–it’s all relative.  Wrench someone’s arm back on the mat?  Tap out for sure.  But hook up a person to a band and do the same elbow movement?  It’s called rehab.

It was like a hammer of knowledge and insight whacked me on the head.

For so many years, I hurt myself and harmed my body through years and years of running on the road and sweating it out in the hot yoga room.  I thought I was improving my cardiovascular condition or clearing my body of toxins.  In actuality, I was slowly killing myself.

And I didn’t even know I was doing it.

But how can that be?  Yeah, I know.  I was exercise addicted.  According to this PubMed article, one who falls into this category is defined as “an individual who…will continue exercising regardless of physical injury, personal inconvenience or disruption to other areas of life including marital strain, interference with work and lack of time for other activities. ‘Addicted’ exercisers are more likely to exercise for intrinsic rewards and experience disturbing deprivation sensations when unable to exercise.”

Yes, that was all me.  When I was in college (and the few years right after graduation), I thought about running, swimming, and biking all the time, so much so, that I’d get in a run before going to school, sit behind my desk sipping diet soda, dreaming of when I could get more mileage in, and then rush to the pool to do laps upon laps as soon as I could clock out of work.  Some turn to alcohol, shopping, or video gaming to escape.  Those things are their drugs of choice.  For me, hitting the yoga studio, pavement or pool were my drugs of choice.

 

And so when I entered eating disorder treatment, I had to cease all forms of movement.  All forms.  Why?  Because I was in such a medically fragile state that even a simple walk to the mailbox could have given me a heart attack.  Forget about running or biking or yoga-ing.  Even more benign and (seemingly) inconsequential actions took a back seat to laying down and resting.  Standing up while talking on the phone.  Taking a stroll around the mall.  All of those actions were replaced by me sitting on the sofa, feet up, reading a book.

But how could that be??  Isn’t exercise supposed to be good for a person?

It all goes back to what Brian mentioned in his fascia class.  Exercise IS good.  Exercise gets the body to release serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate emotions and hormones.  In appropriate volume and intensity levels, exercise is great.  But there are times when movement needs to take a back seat to rest. Interestingly enough, those with eating disorders have altered serotonin levels, and for many individuals who deal with exercise addiction and an eating disorder, they are really relying on movement and sport to help regulate out -of-whack serotonin secretions.

Now here is the dilemma.  When I was knee-deep in exercise addiction, no matter WHAT kind of psychotherapy I did, no matter how many times I journaled out my feelings, no matter that my rational brain was trying to tell me to throw away my running shoes, I couldn’t.  Why?  Well, if getting out of this kind of addiction is more than contingent on just “will power” but actually has to do with something biological, then it would take way more than simply “sucking it up” to get over the addiction.

What did I do?  I actually ended up on anti-depressants.  And I stayed on them.  For.  A .  Long.  Time.  And then when I was able to function more clearly, when my brain chemistry wasn’t as warped because medication helped to level the cognitive playing field, when I no longer thought about the next time I’d get to hit the gym, only then did I start going back to movement and sport.

But guess what.  The exercise addiction piece didn’t just magically end without some thoughtful conversation with my husband and treatment team about what I would do to move my body (because appropriate exercise is wonderful and necessary for a person to thrive).  What happened? What were my next steps?  I’ll discuss more about my foray from addicted exerciser to thoughtful weightlifter (yes, that is what I do now) in my next post.

Do you struggle with exercise addiction?  Did you struggle with it?  What were one or two important steps you took to recover from this kind of addiction?  Comment below!

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