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Over-exercising on the rise

Aug 20, 2012 6:53am
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(NECN/WRC: Doreen Gentzler) - Doctors say an unhealthy disorder is on the rise: Over-exercising.  

Some people obsessively, compulsively exercise to the point that it can interfere with work and personal relationships... Even causing serious injury.  

"My goal was to try to come under 21 minutes for a 5K by the end of the summer," Chris Lear said.  

Lear, 53, admits he was never a runner ... but when he decided to join a racing series last year, he says the thrill of competition became addictive.  

"Once you started winning, it's just very contagious," Lear said.  

So he started training harder, running longer distances, and adding boot camp classes. But it was taking a toll on his body.  

"I just hit a point where I couldn't walk anymore," Lear said.  

Physical Therapist Scott Epsley says he's seeing more and more patients like Lear, who are over exercising and taking their workouts to dangerous extremes.  

"It's very common in runners in particular to see this over exercising mentality. There seems to be that psychological, that Type-A personality," Epsley said. 

In the last 12 years, the number of people finishing marathons has increased 50 percent.  And it's not just runners... The number of yoga practitioners has exploded ... From 4 to 20 million in the last decade.   

"They're afraid they're going to be fat, fear of losing control. Fear of losing structure in their day to day life, not staying in shape, not staying desirable," Psychiatrist Dr. Antonia Baum said.  

Dr. Baum says over exercisers are often similar to people with eating disorders. They use exercise as a way to control their lives or as an escape.  

It becomes a problem when it gets in the way of social activities or relationships ... And of course, when it starts to affect their bodies physically. 

"Unfortunately, the way most people know is because they start to get pain," Epsley said.  

Things like over-use injuries ... Bone stress, shin splints and tendonitis.  

Epsley says over-exercisers will also feel extreme fatigue and joint stiffness.  

Chris Lear suffered a stress fracture and had to take a break from running... After a few months of rest, he's now back on track.  

"It's a bonding thing, it's a competitive thing and it's an eternal drive just to keep going faster and faster," Lear said.  

Physical therapists say it's often not how much exercise you're doing that will cause injury, but how fast you ramp up when you're training.  

Of course, exercise will affect everybody differently.  

The important thing is not to wait to see a doctor if an injury becomes chronic or worsens.
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