Overexercise: The facts behind it

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Unknown 121 1 | Overexercise: The Facts Behind It




As a kid, I grew up with pets.


I had a dog (a schitzu named Bentley). Cats (first, Muffin, then Ellie). A tank full of fish that came and went (with the exception of ‘Goldie’—a goldfish I won at the fair that lived for 7 YEARS!…7 years until car Muffin finally got a hold of Goldie one day). And even a Tamagotchi and Giga Pet (dog of course).




For years though, what I really wanted was a hamster.


My own little hamster to put in a cage in my room, and…do what?


I do not know.


Come to think of it….hamsters (like fish) are pretty boring pets.


Not much interaction.


They drink water out of their water bottles, scurry through their sawdust, and spin on their hamster wheels.


I am happy my mom didn’t endorse my hamster adoption wishes.


(She said they were too smelly).


While they may be cute little critters, hamsters seem to have one thing on their minds: running…and running…and running on their hamster wheels.


That being stated, the topic of hamsters and rats arose this past week, speaking with a few clients about the topic of exercise, and overexercise.


Hamsters and rats?


What do you mean Lauryn?!


Have you ever heard of the ‘activity-based’ rat study’?


This study, initially conducted in 1990, evaluated the ‘workout’ or exercise behaviors of rats that were restricted from their food intake.


Basically, it worked like this: Rats were, simultaneously, restricted in the amount of food they can eat and given access to a running wheel. As the rats experienced a reduction in their caloric intake, they began to spend more and more time running on the wheel.


The findings? Undereating and overexercise went hand-in-hand.




Why is this?


It’s pretty scientific.


But in ‘layman’s terms’: it greatly stems to the ‘feel-good’ chemical, dopamine, in the brain, which exercise enhances naturally, and under-eating decreases naturally.


When a person eats a restricted food diet, not getting all the nourishment and fuel necessary for optimal well-being, the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine is diminished in the brain.




Interestingly enough, hyperactivity (increased running on the ‘wheel’) leads to an increase of dopamine in the brain—specifically, the hypothalmus (the brain structure responsible for motivation). Hence: the tendency of those who struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating to overexercise.


Researchers concluded that “running is accompanied by some kind of pleasurable, rewarding effect, or–the other way round–that it might compensate for the consequences of an unpleasurable condition as the state of hunger certainly is.”


That being said, exercise CAN also have positive effects in a person’s life, recovery, health and well-being, given one’s fundamental basic human needs (ie. food) are being met.


In fact, other findings have shown that anorexia-like and disordered (eating and exercise) symptoms could be improved by an increased dopamine. This ‘phenomenon’ happens naturally through nourishing one’s self with real, whole foods and incorporating appropriate amounts of exercise into their routine.


One study, injecting a precursor to dopamine (which led to an increase in dopamine) enhanced the rat’s performance on a learning and memory task (Avraham et al., 1996), and another study, injecting the dopamine precursor similarly enhanced the rat’s cognitive abilities (Hao et al., 2001).


The bottom line?


Food and exercise does do a body good—and the best news of all?!


You don’t have to be at war with either.




Feed your ‘machine’ the real, whole foods it was designed to thrive upon and eat (a balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates). Find a type of exercise you enjoy (not something you ‘have to do’, but rather something you GENUINELY enjoy doing).


AND be kind to your body—it’s the only one you get.



What is something you’ve done recently that has NOT shown your body, or yourself, kindness?


How can you practice kindness and adopt a healthier relationship with your body, food, and/or fitness today?


Just do it.





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