Emory Report

June 8, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 33


A healthy perspective on exercise should keep you healthy

Summer is here and, with its warm weather, some of us are committed to expanding our exercise routines. Often the decision to increase the amount and intensity of exercise results in increased health benefits. However, when altering your exercise program keep in mind that more does not always equal better.

When considering expanding your exercise program it's a good idea to determine your reason(s) for increasing your current routine. Maybe you want to be able to complete a 10K race, lose a few pounds or increase your muscle tone.

Then develop a program that helps you meet your goals. For example, the best approach to increasing overall body-muscle tone is to incorporate resistance exercise such as weights to your routine, not more cardiovascular activities like running.

You should increase the intensity, duration and frequency of your exercise gradually, and not simultaneously. Gradual increments allow the body to adapt to a higher level of functioning, whereas prematurely overloading the body to do more work than it is accustomed to often leads to injury and frustration.

In fact, research has shown that significant increases in musculoskeletal injuries such as stress fractures and tendon damage are reported more often in people who participate in weight-bearing exercises like running and high-impact aerobics for longer than 45 minutes per exercise session and/or more than 5 days per week. Even "injury-free" exercise enthusiasts need to remember that the combination of adequate rest periods between vigorous exercise sessions and healthy eating habits are critical for improvements in fitness to occur.

Be attentive to your body's signals, particularly those indicating you may be "over-exercising." Similar to a "stale athlete," the recreational "excessive-exerciser" may experience:

  • decreases in performance levels despite increased effort;
  • increased feelings of fatigue throughout the day;
  • sleep disturbances;
  • loss of weight; and
  • bad moods.

Keep your commitment to exercise in perspective. Be aware of potential signs that your exercise habits may be becoming problematic. Maintenance of your exercise routine despite sickness or injury is one, as is continued pursuit of your exercise routine despite significant interference with your work, social or family responsibilities; increased feelings of distress if you must miss or cut short an exercise session; frequent thoughts about expending calories when you exercise; and increased need to exercise alone because your work-out partners feel you maintain too rigorous of a schedule. Increased emotional distress-heightened anxiety, depression, disturbed body image and problematic eating behaviors-are also cause for concern.

Congratulations on your admirable commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. By listening carefully to your body and responding appropriately to its need for a delicate balance of exercise, rest and good nutrition, you are certain to accomplish your fitness goals.

Jill Welkley is assistant professor of Health, Physical Education and Dance. Amye Fried obtained her BA in psychology from Emory in 1994 and is currently completing a master's in social work at Smith College. "Wellness" is coordinated by the Seretean Center for Health Promotion.

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