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Are You Addicted to Exercise? 9 Telltale Signs

Dancers today are more diligent than ever about cross-training to keep their bodies strong and healthy. But where is the line between a dedication to exercise and a dangerous addiction?

The consequences of compulsively cross-training can be severe. These nine signs mean you might be taking it too far.

Your Muscles Are Getting Weaker:

Every time you exercise, you break down muscle tissues. This breakdown, followed by a rest period, causes the muscles to rebuild and become stronger. But if you do too much exercise and without enough rest periods (or enough nutrition), you won't get that rebuilding, says Megan Richardson, an athletic trainer specializing in dance medicine at New York University's Langone Medical Center and in private practice. “All we get is breakdown." Too much exercise means you'll actually start losing strength.


You're Having Problems Sleeping:

Over-exercising could cause sleep disruption and make you feel overly-fatigued says Dr. Antoine Douaihy, the consulting psychiatrist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

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Your Emotions Are All Over The Place:

An exercise addiction can make you more stressed and anxious, says Douaihy. Addicted dancers might also start feeling irritable when they don't get as much exercise as they want. "It starts preoccupying their mind, thinking about when they will get back to it," says Dr. Brian Goonan, a psychologist who works with Houston Ballet Academy.

You Try to Hide it:

When you can't rein in how much you cross-train, you may begin lying about your exercise habits, downplaying how much time and energy you're spending in the gym.

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You Keep Exercising Despite Injury:

Compulsive exercisers will prioritize workouts over their health. They keep doing exercises that involve an injured body part and they don't see the correlation. “Or they just feel that stopping that particular exercise is not an option," says Richardson.

Exercise Always Comes First:

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You think constantly about when, where and how you will get a workout in even if it's detrimental to other parts of your life. Everything becomes organized around exercise. “You have to be late to your sister's rehearsal dinner because the plane lands at 3 and you need to get a 5-mile run in," says Goonan.

Your Heart is Acting Up:

In the most severe cases, Douaihy says that chronic over-exercise can lead to changes in the heart and cause irregular heartbeat. Ultimately, this can put you at risk for heart failure and stroke.

It Never Feels Like Enough:

You keep pushing forward despite having reached your goal. “You think, If running 3 miles was good, then 5 must be better," says Goonan.

You Rely On Exercise As an Escape:

Your reasons for cross-training start to extend beyond simply improving strength and stamina, Goonan says. Exercise becomes a crutch to help you feel better whenever things in the studio aren't going as planned, or you're having personal problems.


If several of these signs sound familiar to you, a psychologist who works with dancers can help you find treatment—without forcing you to stop dancing or cross-training entirely.


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July 2021