Excess sport: the signs that should alert

Exercising is good. But doing “too much” can probably be risky for your health, both physically and mentally.

And to take a step back and know if we are flirting with excessive sport, there are signs that should alert. Two experts explain to us how to spot them and get out of them.

“One of the first signs to observe is fatigue,” explains Blanche, sports coach for Fitness Park.

“It is often said that physical activity helps you sleep well, but if you exercise too much, especially at the end of the day, you can instead have disturbed sleep and feel very tired. All this is accompanied by stress and greater irritability than usual, and one can see a drop in motivation and stagnant performance.

On a purely physical level, the expert warns of the repeated injuries, a sign of an overworked body. This was the case of Mathilde, 33, student in sport-study tennis in 4e and 3e : “Between tennis training, physical work, weekend matches and classic PE lessons, I was at 14/15 hours of sport per week”, she recalls.

Three years later, I felt a big pain during a match, it was the tendon of my biceps which had almost torn.

“I started to chain tendonitis in the shoulder, but I kept telling myself that sport-study would only last two years and that I wanted to be the best possible. The physiotherapists told me that tendinitis requires at least a month of rest, even up to six months, but I never took a break of more than a week. Three years later, I felt a big pain during a match, it was the tendon of my biceps which had almost torn. Result: an operation and 6 months of forced break.”

Same story for Nicolas, 31, a great athlete since childhood (at the rate of 2 to 3 sessions per week minimum), who has experienced many breakdowns over the years. By 2012, living abroad, he had come to play sports every night of the week to keep busy but also to socialize. “I had a breakdown in mid-March and I came back too soon, because I wanted and needed it. A few weeks later, rupture of the cruciate ligaments…”

An operation later (another will follow, on the meniscus this time), Nicolas continues to exercise regularly and intensely but readily admits that all these injuries have had an impact on the fragility of his legs and his body and that he must now “be careful and take care of himself”.

The psychological symptoms of excessive sports practice

Let it be said: doing too much sport does not only have physical consequences. Laurence Kern, Doctor of Sciences and Techniques of Physical and Sports Activities and University Lecturer, begins by specifying that “excessive sport is difficult to define objectively because we do not all have the same limits”.

She explains, however, that it is standard in the literature to say that exercise dependence can be defined by the appearance of at least three of the following symptoms, over a period of twelve months:

– tolerance (need to increase the amount of sport to feel the same effects);
– weaning (symptoms of withdrawal during a period without sport and the need for physical activity to no longer feel them);
– the intention (to do more sport than the objective that we had set);
– lack of control (impossibility to stop or follow a reasonable program);
– the time spent (excessive time devoted to the practice and its surroundings);
– the abandonment or reduction of other activities (organizing one’s life according to sport);
– and continuity (continuing the practice despite an injury or a psychological problem).

An overflow that risks turning into an obsession

Symptoms that Clotilde, 30, is able to identify: “At 20, I signed up for a gym and I quickly became addicted, I went there 5 days a week, for 2 hours at high intensity per day. My body quickly gained muscle mass. Things got worse after a breakup: I continued to “kill” myself in sport and in parallel, I started following several fitness influencers and controlling my diet. I lost weight, I was tired and irritable with those around me. And even though I went out a lot, I didn’t talk to anyone. The only thing that mattered was planning my next workout. Physical activity and food have become the most important parts of my life. The day after the evening, I had to go for a run even though I had only slept three hours. During the preparations for my wedding, I calibrated the fittings of wedding dresses according to the times at which I went to the room.

If she believes that she has got out of this dangerous gear, especially after having encountered difficulties in conceiving, the young woman admits feel guilty if she can’t train when she has “a big meal planned” and points to the negative impact of social networks.

For Laurence Kern, this downward spiral is the logical consequence of excessive practice, as is the case with any addiction problem. We often start by trying to be in better shape, more muscular or to lose a few pounds (for example during adolescence or transition periods such as menopause), or we have need to regulate one’s emotions in times of stress, bad news or big change (we talk about coping strategy).

Thanks to this physical activity, we see physical effects on the body – we get thinner, we get toned up – and the euphoric effect of the endorphins produced by the brain boosts us. As a result, you end up practicing more and more often.

Excess of sport: how to calm the game?

On a purely physical level, the sports coach recommends consulting a doctor in the event of recurrent injuries, severe fatigue, irritability or sleep disorders.

And immediately, put your body to rest, or at least drastically lighten your sports schedule. “The recovery time should be proportional to the period of overtraining,” she says. “In the event of extreme fatigue, it can last several months, during which it is important to ensure that you have a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet.”

In case of moderate fatigue, you can simply reduce the intensity and frequency of your sports activity, or even try new activities at moderate intensity (provided that the fatigue does not last). And in any case, it is essential never to neglect the recovery phases, “essential to progress”.

On the psychological level, the situation is complex, especially if the person already has one foot in the addiction without even being aware of it.

“Awareness generally comes from the entourage who suffers”, indicates Laurence Kern who specifies that physiotherapists, pharmacists and doctors should be more aware in order to recognize an addiction to sport (sports addicts never consult for this problem and rarely for its consequences, they rather resort to self-medication).

Once the problem has been identified and recognized as existing and a cause of suffering by the athlete, it is important to consult a psychologist to identify the causes of addiction and be able to provide an appropriate response.

Finally, Laurence Kern insists on the importance of discussing the possible negative effects of physical activity without falling into catastrophism: “all is not all black or all white. People can very well do a regular activity, get involved in it, without physical, psychological or social health problems appearing. We must distinguish between habit, passion, commitment, excessive physical activity, compulsion, dependence and addiction.

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