Yes, a whole year. Those Nike’s have gotten their fair share of wear and tear.
Well, ok not quite—11 months and 20 days. Nearly made it. That one-year mark was sinfully close, and I was tempted out of my mind to hit that 365-day mark. But I’m actually really proud of myself that I didn’t.
Why tell you this seemingly irrelevant, immensely personal aspect of my life? Simple: I’m not the only one who’s done this.
The fact that more than one human being would span a year of their lives without a day off from exercise might seem crazy to you, especially if you don’t exercise regularly or aren’t particularly interested in fitness. I mean, for many people, it’s hard to motivate follow-through on gym trips even once or twice a week.
That used to be the case for me, too. There was a time when I claimed I would never be someone who enjoyed exercise. I joked with friends about it and expressed extreme distaste when people invited me out on runs, to workout-related on-campus events, or to attend a yoga class at a nearby studio.
Then, I stumbled upon exercise that I enjoyed. I attended a few group fitness classes on a whim, and found that I loved not only participating in group exercise, but doing cardio and strength moves that didn’t involve monotonous gym machines.
From there, I fell in love with it. I was making goals and achieving them. Like a BOSS. And I felt great. I was more productive, emotionally balanced, and readily equipped to deal with the myriad of life’s daily stressors and unpredictability.
So I exercised more. And more. And more and more and more, and eventually I got really good at it. I even became a fitness instructor. (Don’t get me wrong—I don’t regret any of this. I’m still a fitness instructor, and I love every second of it.)
I started to work out every single day (without exception) last August, making sure I planned time for it. “Not exercising” didn’t even occur to me as an option. If there wasn’t a fitness class available for sign-up, I planned out an individual workout. If there was, you bet I’d be there.
I didn’t even think about the fact that I wasn’t taking rest days. I was feeling great! Moving, lifting weights, running, jump-squatting, and getting stronger all the while. Until, of course, I wasn’t. My body got tired, but I didn’t know enough to make the connection as to why it was feeling that way.
Here’s what I did know: exercise made me feel happy, confident, and empowered. So when I felt worn down and tired, I exercised to combat those weary feelings. And it did make me feel better—briefly. I would feel better until my body got over the endorphin high and (of course) became tired again. But that part wasn’t obvious to me. What was obvious was the rush I felt when I finished a tough workout. So, logically, I chased that rush with fierce determination, day in and day out.
I didn’t realize it, but I had become addicted to exercise.
This happens to a lot of people. And it’s time we talk about it. It’s time we mention, discuss, and hopefully learn to adequately address the rampant affliction that’s hitting young adults everywhere: exercise addiction.
You can’t tell me that this is not true. Not only have I experienced it firsthand, as I’ve explained to you above, I’ve also witnessed it festering in and tainting a number of otherwise positive environments. My campus gym? Rampant with it. My fitness instructor coworkers? Horribly infected. The accounts that follow my Instagram? Wretched with signs of belonging to hopeless addicts.
Let me get one thing straight: it’s not the people themselves that are wretched. It’s the addiction. It sucks. It seriously, seriously sucks. I mean, it’s a complex issue—I love exercise! And unlike alcohol, exercise is not something you should cut from your life entirely. Refraining from exercise entirely is not only unrealistic (you’ve gotta run to catch the bus now and then, maybe you want to go hiking one day, etc.) but also not at all recommended for your mental, emotional, or physical health.
Unlike alcohol, exercise doesn’t result in horrible hangovers, but instead boosts your productivity, mood, and overall vivacity.
Unlike alcohol, exercise addiction is not an affliction that is openly talked about and commonly treated.
Unlike alcohol, exercise addiction is not looked down upon by society and your peers (in fact, I’d argue that it’s actually admired).
Alternatively, like alcohol addiction, exercise addiction has the potential to take over your life. Like other addiction, exercise addiction has the potential to ruin your relationships, aspirations, and emotional stability. Like other addiction, exercise addiction is difficult to overcome. Like other addiction, recovery from exercise addiction involves withdrawal, emotional tumult, and potentially even medical bills.
Like other addiction, exercise addiction can cause serious and irreversible harm to your body.
Really? you’re thinking. I can end up in the hospital from getting too much exercise? Yes.
Ok, not like “I’m super fit, oh no I’m going to die!” No. More like “I’ve been overextending my body for 5 years now and keep running on two stress fractures and a heart rate that’s too low.”
Yeah, then you might.
I’ve witnessed consequences happen on less extreme, short-term scales, too. I have friends who, on sudden and dramatic plans to lose weight, overexercised for a couple of months and neglected to take rest days. These friends experienced some unsavory consequences including (but not limited to) stress fractures, sprains, and bone density changes.
So it can happen. And it does. Which is why it’s important that people know about it so that they can catch it before they, too, fall into a worsening addiction that’s hard to shake.
You might be wondering: who am I to be preaching all of this?
“Hi, my name is Holly and I am an exercise addict.”
CHORUS: Hi, Holly.
Ha, ha. But I mean, I just told you that I almost made it a year without giving my body a rest. So why listen to me? I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Ok, that may be true, but I do have experience; and I’m writing this because I’m hoping that someone out there can learn from it. I’m hoping that someone—whether it’s someone who’s planning on an extreme diet and exercise crash regimen to lose weight, or a fitness instructor who’s genuinely just lost his or her balance somewhere along the way—decides not to chronically overexercise because they’ve learned a bit from my mistakes.
Read about what constitutes overexercise here.
So. Based on my experience:
What happens to you when you don’t let your body rest?
You feel tired.
(Duh.) My body’s baseline feeling became just that: “worn out”. Notice that I didn’t say “sore”—it didn’t feel like muscle soreness. I experienced daily aches and pains and a general feeling of overuse, but my muscles wouldn’t get sore like they used to. I’m not sure why this is (I’m not a doctor) but I do know that once I did take that rest day, I was astonished at what it felt like to live in a body that wasn’t exhausted.
It actually stressed me out. Why do I have all this energy? Should I do something to use it? What can I do to use it up? With my experience of “normalcy” at exhaustion, I was itching to try and get there again, itching to try and feel normal. This, I now know, isn’t healthy. “Normal” shouldn’t equate to “tired” in a healthy individual. Yes, it happens, and actually needs to in order to get stronger. But it shouldn’t by any means be a constant. So I went through with the rest, and learned something else along the way: change, in any and all forms, requires feelings of discomfort. However, these feelings do eventually subside, and something else good just might come of it.
You get really protective over your time at the gym, and snap at people who “get in your way”.
I was exercising every day, and I would not let anyone obstruct that. If people did, or if a friend suggested that I skip it, I would become genuinely upset. The gym was my time, and no one was going to take it from me. This mindset steadily grew into an encroaching “all-or-nothing” attitude in which my time at the gym was sacred. I was going to make it perfect, no matter what.
You miss out on opportunities and experiences because you decide you’d rather exercise instead.
So say I’d planned to exercise at 10 AM on Sunday morning. I was all signed up for my class and ready to go. Then, a friend planned a brunch at that same time and invited me to join her and some people I’d wanted to get to know. No way I’d choose to go to the brunch. I’d already planned to go have my sacred gym hour, and no one was going to get in my way, remember? Same thing applied in this scenario. Forget about making those new friendships—I’d choose to miss the brunch, every time.
You stress out a lot over when you will exercise and if it will be “enough”.
Schedules don’t always work out. What if something came up that drove a wedge into the time I’d dedicated to my workout? It was always a possibility, and always a worry.
And like I said, once I did make it there, that hour was sacred and perfect. And if I’d signed up for a new type of class, I couldn’t be sure if the workout would be “enough” for my level of fitness. Leading up to the experience, I’d be stressed that I wouldn’t get enough of a workout out of the hour. What if it was too easy? What if I didn’t experience that post-workout high I so ardently chased? That would suck. So I’d worry, until I of course had a tough workout again and then it was okay.
The problem with this mentality of exercise being “enough” is that it’s an ever-increasing scale with no end goal. So what have I learned? There doesn’t need to be a standard of “enough” exercise, unless it’s for health-related reasons—do what is best for your body and what you feel like you want to. Do what makes you feel good. The end. For me right now, that’s still a lot of exercise. I’m still intending to stay fit, that hasn’t changed. But if I’m not working out to the point of exhaustion every time, I no longer feel anxious about it. It’s okay—the workout was fun, anyway, even if it wouldn’t have hit my previous standard of “enough”.
What happens when you take a rest day after a year of neglecting to do so?
I cried twice. It was an emotional day, in a lot of ways. Not only did I realize how reliant I’d become, I was also experiencing some anxiety and, frankly, panic. Tumultuous, indeed.
Your body thinks it can feel itself getting weaker from just one day.
This was a trick of my mind: in all probability, my body was getting stronger. Finally, finally, I was letting it use its recovery time towards building itself up, rather than scrambling to recuperate after being repeatedly broken down. But the power of perception wasn’t on my side, and I thought I would lose out on the progress I’d made at the gym. The verdict? I did not.
Your muscles actually ache from not being used.
Weird, but true.
You’re hyper-aware of your body and how strong it is.
After that year of exercise, I’m pretty dang strong. I found my arms and abs flexing without realizing it. Additionally, I was increasingly conscious of how much work I could be doing, but was choosing not to. The contrast drove me insane.
You try to get out of it.
This is hard for me to admit, but I did almost give up. A friend of mine teaches tabata at my campus gym and texted me that day to ask if I was going to her class. I told her I was. In the moment, it was easy to make excuses. I ended up planning on going to the high-intensity tabata class in the late afternoon, making the contention that it was of course a positive choice: I loved that class, and had gone every week. So it was ok. I was making a decision for my own enjoyment, indulging in a “treat yoself” moment. (False.)
I told myself I’d rest another day (knowing full well I wouldn’t) and my brain conveniently blocked out the warning signs that I was making a choice that was potentially bad for me.
The class was (in)conveniently cancelled. When I found out, at first I was angry. Furious, even. My excuses had been outed. Something had gotten in my way. At that point, I knew I couldn’t hide it anymore—I had a problem. In order to still exercise and not take my rest day, I’d have to work much harder to come up with a plan. I’d have to premeditate my negligent, self-sabotaging decision to give up. I’d promised myself rest, and instead I would be actively denying myself from it. If I exercised I would have to feel disappointed and weak, out of control, and addicted, rather than proud, positive, and strong. So I followed through with it, and wow I’m glad I did.
You’re immensely anxious.
That being said, it wasn’t easy. Like you can probably already glean from the previous bullet points, I was a miserable ball of moving tension.
You’re really hungry.
Ok, so I’m not sure if this happens to everybody who experiences this. But it happened to me. I was hungry all day, and I ate just as much (if not more) than I usually did with exercise. Why? I still don’t know. What I know is that I hated it, and I grew really frustrated trying to understand why my body was craving food when I didn’t “need” the calories I usually did. Read here about why healthy eating is actually NOT about the calories here.
You have tons more energy than you’re used to.
This is something I was told would happen, but didn’t believe. Well, it’s 100% true. It’s not jittery energy, either, like when you drink too much coffee, but instead is genuine vivacity. So if you’re on the fence, try it. It’s pretty great. On the day itself, of course, I wasn’t happy and the energy wasn’t all positive. But it was there, and my workout the following day was AMAZINGLY motivating and powerful. It’s amazing what a little rest can do.
What’s in the future for me? Hopefully, a future where I find balance and moderation with exercise. I’m hoping for a future where I make fitness-related goals for myself and work to achieve them while remaining within the scope of my physical and mental health. Undoubtedly, this will take work and practice. I’m getting there.
I’d love to chat about it, if you’re interested or experiencing something similar.
Not sure if you’re experiencing exercise addiction?
My advice is to take a step back and evaluate. What happens when you can’t exercise? Is your impression of your exercise inextricably tied to the way you view your day overall? Is a day with exercise a “good day” and a day without exercise a “bad day”? Are you taking rest days? If you are concerned that you might be addicted to exercise, consult a medical professional.
Or, you know, take a rest day. And don’t wait a year to do it, either.
DISCLAIMER. Again: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I am a college student who studies a non-scientific subject and overexercises. Therefore I am by no means a professional.