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Exercise Needs Proper Control
Though exercise is important for keeping the body health but over doing it can have serious consequences.
The ripples of blue always relaxed her, so why should it be any different today? So what if she felt feverish? So the computer was switched off the bag was packed, and out she zoomed. Just 20 minutes and a splash later, and the 200 meter pool was all hers. A few laps done, she was out, feeling high on life. The bad day at work, as she says, "dissolved in water, as always."

That night, she had to take two Crocins to deal with the fever. What had started off as a mild illness had worsened. But Asha Joshi didn't care, because this is how she deals with stress. By working out frantically, never mind fevers and aches. You might want to compliment her on her dedication to fitness, but doctors wouldn't. They'd call it an obsession.

And that's just what it is. Because the growing emphasis on keeping fit, coupled with increasing work pressures, are leading more and more people to take exercise to extremes. Extremes that can harm both body and mind.

Mind maze
When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins that produce a feeling of euphoria-the so-called "runner's high" that people can become chemically addicted to.

Without it, you feel irritable and out-of-sorts till you exercise again. So you go on exercising, never stopping to listen to what your body is saying. And what it's saying is, "Stop."

The reason exercise addicts keep pushing themselves probably lies in what happens when they don't work out. Psychologists Connie Chan and Hildy Y Grossman at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, studied the psychological consequences of being unable to exercise. They compared 30 male and female runners who had been laid low by minor injuries for at least two weeks, with a similar group who continued to run. Those who could not run displayed more signs of depression, anxiety and confusion than did those who could, and they were far less happy with themselves and their bodies. Like other addictions, exercise, they say, appears to have withdrawal symptoms.

Agrees Dr A Ramachandiran, a consulting psychologist who runs a private practice in Kurla, Mumbai, "Looking fit is a fad now so people take to it easily. But over a period of time, you have high chances of getting hooked to it."

He cites the example of a young woman who had to be brought to him for counselling. Though she had lost tremendous amounts of weight through exercise, she was so addicted that, far from slowing down, she increased her pace.

"She skipped rope to a count of 1,500 and ran one-and-a-half miles in her building compound everyday," says Dr Ramachandiran. "She had already lost weight, but nothing would stop her. Finally she had to be counselled because the exercise was turning into an obsession."

It wasn't very different for advertising professional Rita Sirohi who joined a gym because she was over-weight. It started as a regular workout, but soon she was hooked. "I felt so much in control of my life that I was completely addicted." So much so that even after her daily hour's session, she'd sneak back into the gym after her instructor had left, and work out some more. And though she often worked late at the office, till the early hours of the morning, she was up at 7 am daily, and back in the gym. "I admit I was dead tired everyday" she says, "But the feel-good factor made up for everything. It worked almost like a drug."

Dr Pradnya Aklekar, a counselling psychologist with Ahimsa Clinic, Mumbai, lists other things that can make the obsession worse. Says she, "Compulsive exercisers let nothing come in the way of their exercise schedule. So they think about it when they are working, exercise even when they are unwell, and sometimes even skip social functions just because they don't want them to interfere in their fitness regimen."

Of aches and pains
The over-indulgence doesn't harm only the mind, but the body as well. Initially, the exercise will do what it's supposed to-give you a fit body-but once you cross the line, it can get lethal. Muscle damage, osteoarthritis, heart problems... they're all waiting to make an appearance.

"The body has its limitations and if you push it beyond that limit, you will harm yourself," says Dr Hemant Thacker, consultant physician and cardiologist at Jaslok, Breach Candy and Bhatia Hospitals.

Obsessive exercise tends to happen among new exercisers, people who have only just started working out. So keen are they to get fit that they overstep the limits.

The initial signs of unaccustomed exercise, says Dr Thacker, can be exhaustion, but that leads to a build up of fatigue. This can do "irreparable harm to the body."

It isn't only muscles that are at risk, so are bones. Some "recreational" athletes push themselves to the point of injuries such as shin splints or stress fractures, then refuse to rest, causing greater and perhaps permanent damage.

It happened with Rita. After a month of exercising like one obsessed, her body complained. "I couldn't walk," she says. "My whole body hurt. Climbing stairs was impossible. In fact, I couldn't even sit because my abdomen hurt so badly"

And that was when she discussed it with her instructor who told her she had overdone it. So the sessions were cut down to 30 minutes, and he made sure she left the gym with him.

Even a morning walk is not without risk. "Too much walking can lead to osteo-arthritis," says Dr Anil Karkhanis, Head of Orthopedic, Cooper Hospital and Nanavati Hospital, "When you're walking, you are working against gravity. So more than exercising your muscles, you are harming your knee joint. I get a lot of patients who walk up to an hour everyday and then come up with complaints of aches in the knee. In fact, jogging also harms the knees and I recommend that anybody above 35 keep away from it." Too many sit-ups can also hurt. More than 10 a day, says Dr Karkhanis, can weaken the spine. Moderation, as usual, is the key.

Sirish Thakkar, who runs Dance with Me, a dance and fitness studio in Juhu, says you should begin gradually, and combine different types of workouts, something that obsessive exercisers forget. "A complicating factor with people who get hooked to exercise is that they tend to perform the same workouts day after day, further increasing the chances of permanent damage," he says.

Thinking fight
This doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your workout. Just that you should listen to your body. "Don't work out so much that you feel completely exhausted at the end of it," says lqbal Qureshi, gym instructor-turned-dance and fitness expert. "About 45 minutes to an hour, four to five days a week, should be your limit. Your workout should leave you feeling fresh and energetic. And make it a point to take a day's break every week. This is important because your body needs to relax and rejuvenate."

The key to achieving this lies in your attitude. Exercising is the way to a healthy life. So if you do it only to please yourself when you stand on the weighing machine, you defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. Feeling healthy should be the priority. So stop fighting with your own body and you'll be a happier person.
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Posted on : 26/11/2005
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