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We often (appropriately) extol the mental and physical benefits of exercise—people who exercise in general live longer, have lower cancer rates, lower blood pressure…just to name a few.  And mental tasks are easier, can better your mood and helps ward off depression.

Overall, exercise is a very good thing. But can we run or bike or swim too much?  

If you know anything about my philosophy you know the answer is yes—you can exercise too little, but you can also exercise too much!

With the summer race season heating up (big yay!), there has been a ramping up of exercisers as well.  Coming up ahead of Michigan Titanium in August, is the Grand Rapids Triathlon which will occur June 19 and 20.  

What should triathletes and other endurance athletes watch out for?  

There are repetitive use injuries of course—too much, too fast, too soon—but as we just finished Mental Health Awareness Month in May (and we really need to be aware every month), I want to begin the discussion on the negative side of exercise and mental health. 

When discussing mental health issues one of the keys is understanding that there is often no beginning or end—it is a circular issue.  

What I mean by this is when someone is not doing well it can be hard to determine where it all got started.  When a person feels anxious or depressed, sleep patterns can become skewed, and it is hard to tell if the poor sleep is making the anxiety/depression worse, or if anxiety/depression is affecting sleep.  The reality: both of these things are happening and the direction is down.  

The same process can apply to athletes—is there something about the exercise that is making the person feel bad, or is feeling bad affecting exercise?  And what is there attached to exercise that might make a person feel bad—lose the joy that usually pushes them forward?  It might be internal (such as pressure to win or improve or not miss a workout) or external (pressure from parents to win or to continue to participate when the athlete wants to be done). 

In the end, the act of exercising loses joy, causing less exercise—the dreaded downward spiral.  Throw in the loss of sport due to injury or a pandemic and the spiral can get worse—that’s where we will pick it up next time.  Until then focus on the positive aspects of exercise and the motivation behind this exercise—why do you do what you do?

Call 252-7778 or search sports medicine at www.metrohealth.net for information on how to see us if your mental or physical health could use a boost!

Be active!

*Dr, Ed Kornoelje is a Family Medicine Specialist for Metro Health-University of Michigan Health Sports Medicine