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When Exercise Becomes Unhealthy

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

By Sabahat Rahman, Associate Editor

Graphic by Elaine Zhang

Staying active, especially in quarantine, has been essential. Whether it’s taking a short walk or doing a no-equipment workout, exercise does wonders for our bodies. It helps us maintain a healthy weight, sleep well, and release endorphins to keep our minds happy. However, here is what a lot of people aren’t telling you: exercise isn’t always healthy. In fact, in some cases, exercise negatively impacts your health.

Here are a couple of instances in which exercise is NOT beneficial:

You don't enjoy your workouts.

Before I jump into this, let me clarify that it is totally okay to not always enjoy exercising. Some days, we may be less motivated to sweat at the gym. That’s completely fine; it’s necessary to find that balance between listening to and challenging our bodies!

What is harmful, though, is when exercise becomes a chronically unenjoyable activity. In this situation, working out is your least favorite part of the day — every day. Each and every minute of your run or circuit feels like torture. In general, you hate working out.

That’s when something’s not right. A chronic lack of motivation and energy could be due to chronic stress, undereating, iron deficiency, or another underlying issue. These factors reduce energy or happiness levels, making it more difficult to enjoy working out — and many other activities!

Working out becomes an obligation.

I’ll say this again: pushing yourself is great, but there’s a limit. One of the key habits of happy people is being flexible. When we force ourselves to adhere to a rigid schedule and don’t allow ourselves wiggle room, we inadvertently put a lot of stress on ourselves to be perfect. The same applies to working out. Having a schedule or plan is a great idea, but working out should never be an obligation. For instance, if you’re on vacation for a few days, finding some time to exercise should not be your focus. Enjoy yourself! If exercising is always on your mind and is an uncompromisable part of the day, it can be beneficial to step back and think, ‘Why do I need to exercise?’ ‘Will not exercising for a couple of days really negatively affect my health?’

Ultimately, anything that makes you unhappy, stressed, or lethargic is not healthy for you.

Exercise is a wonderful way to stay happy and healthy, so it’s important to make sure it’s doing just that!

People in the situations I mentioned above can try and work with doctors, counselors, or family members to address any issues they may be facing. If you have an iron deficiency, for instance, focus on eating iron-rich foods and, perhaps, taking iron supplements if your doctor recommends it. If you’re undereating or are suffering from an eating disorder, consider working with a nutritionist and counselor to slowly develop healthy eating habits. Most importantly, not exercising is more than acceptable in these cases. In fact — it’s necessary!


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