Over Worked!

By Hollie Costello
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 16, 1996

Chris Richards
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Trevor Dickman, exercise and sport sciences senior, makes exercise a daily priorty. Everyday, the slender 24-year-old rides his bike to and from school, swims for 45 minutes, lifts weights for an hour and a half, and runs for an hour. Health experts say over-exercising is a growing problem nationwide.


Trevor Dickman begins and ends his day with a workout.

Exercise is his number one priority of the day. He relies on it. He centers his day around it.

While the trend to be in the best shape is ever-increasing for the general population, more people are taking exercise to extreme measures.

"Research is now documenting people using [exercise] as a control mechanism," says Sue Benner-Hughes, assistant director of fitness at the University of Arizona Recreation Center.

Health educators consider over-exercising a serious problem. Like sufferers of bulimia and anorexia, both serious eating disorders, people who over-exercise do so not for enjoyment or health benefits, but for control, says Lynne Smiley, the nutrition/wellness coordinator for Campus Health.

Over-exercisers need control over their bodies, their surroundings and their lives. Exercise helps them deal with the things that make their lives out of control, she says.

"They use the word 'healthy' to justify their obsessive behavior," Smiley says. "Healthy has gone way beyond its original meaning."

Trevor, an exercise and sports sciences senior, says he does use exercise as a stress-buster. Exercise gets him through his day and through his night, he says. It leaves him feeling good about how much he has accomplished and helps him get through tough nights studying.

"You want the exercisers to control what they do, not for the exercise to control them," says Benner-Hughes. Both Smiley and Benner-Hughes say one aspect of an over-exerciser is the need for a rigid workout.

For example, if an over-exerciser's stationary bike is broken, it will be hard for them to use a different stationary bike, much less any different type of equipment, Benner-Hughes says.

Trevor, a transfer student from Kansas University, used to vary his workout routine because of the weather. He now remains strict to a routine.

"With the weather here, I can workout year-round and not worry [about conditions]," Trevor says. For three to four hours a day, Trevor can be found at the Rec Center doing just that.

He rides his bike to and from school, five miles each way, swims for 45 minutes, lifts weights for an hour and a half and runs for another hour.

"Some people may use [exercise] as a weight loss thing, to achieve a societal ideal," says Benner-Hughes.

Most over-exercisers are not doing it for weight loss at all, says Smiley.

Both Benner-Hughes and Smiley have seen both men and women who create problems for themselves by exercising their bodies too hard. They agree that there is no magical cutoff point.

Smiley stresses the fact that every body is different.

"There is no one 'perfect' exercise for everyone," she says.

Trevor says he has indeed had problems with his body. As a high school athlete in four sports at age 16, Trevor sublexed his right shoulder a number of times, meaning that at any time, his shoulder would slide out of place and reposition itself.

In 1994, his shoulder dislocated completely and was operated on. His entire shoulder had blown by age 22.

"Six months of rehabilitation turned into 18 months," Trevor says. "I have had a more driven intensity in these last two years, because I felt I could not rely on my body anymore."

Benner-Hughes says she believes compulsive exercisers are doing more harm than good to their bodies.

"There is wear and tear on bones, joints, ligaments and a higher risk for chronic and acute injuries," she says.

One of the least convincing reasons people give for intense workout schedules is when they say it's for their health, Smiley says.

By exercising too much their metabolism raises and as it raises, the body burns fat and carbohydrates. When they no longer have fat or carbohydrates in their systems their bodies start burning muscle tissue, she says.

Even proper nutrition does not make it OK to do overly extensive exercise programs, Smiley says. Strict exercise routines, such as structuring the time period for a particular workout, are not healthy. It not only messes up a person's health but his endurance and stamina as well, she says.

"I never want to be fat," Trevor says.

He is about 6 feet 3 inches tall, 157 pounds, with strong shoulders, muscular legs and a flat stomach. Both his parents are thin and athletic. His younger brother has a similar build, without the workout schedule Trevor keeps.

Right now Trevor checks his body fat every year by having a skin fold, which involves pinching the skin with numbered tongs. His fat percentage has remained at a constant 2.9.

No one has ever told him what he is doing is unhealthy, but people have told him he needs to slow down

Trevor says he uses exercise to stay slim and get the endorphin high that helps him through his day. Endorphins are natural hormones produced when a person is scared, excited or in pain. For some, it is like a natural high.

Most exercisers can achieve some type of endorphin high after a 30-minute high-impact workout. Over-exercisers get that feeling but peak and feel the need to continue their workout. Their next workout will have to be built up even more to achieve the same feeling.

While Smiley says that compulsive exercising may be better for a person than anorexia or bulimia, over-exercisers are not doing it for good fitness.

Exercise is what makes Smiley's patients feel alive and stress-free. In reality, they are unable to cope, using exercise as their crutch of control, she says.

Trevor, like many other overly health-conscious adults, will eventually have to cut down his routine because of career, family and other obligations.

First, over-exercisers will have to learn coping skills and open up about why they need exercise as a control in their lives, Smiley says.

In the meantime, Trevor will be at the Rec Center.

"I'm not mentally satisfied without my workout," he says. "I always want to be in the best shape, no matter what."