Weekly check up: Appropriate gym use

You run four miles, do 30 minutes on the stationary bike, lift some weights, take an aerobics class and finally emerge from your workout four hours later. Sound familiar? If it does, you may spend an unhealthy amount of time at the gym.

College students are one of the biggest at-risk groups for gym overuse. Guys hoping to form that six pack and girls trying their best not to gain “the freshman 15” often surpass their physical limits to reach their goals.

Susan Haney, clinical program coordinator for Student Health Services, said that it’s difficult to estimate the prevalence of gym overuse because most gym habits are only indentified through self reports. Also, a difference in body type will determine how much time someone personally needs to spend at the gym. A healthy amount of exercise is completely dependent on the individual, Haney said.

“Most students are probably exercising for very healthy reasons,” Haney said. “But certainly some students are trying to maintain weights that are too low.”

Spending too much time at the gym can result in orthopedic problems, lead people to easily pull or strain muscles or pass out due to overexertion or dehydration. Some professionals also believe that over-exercising is a sign of emotional or psychological issues, Haney said.

Seeking out a personal trainer is one way to learn how to exercise in a healthy way for your body. Trainers can help you set a regular work-out schedule and that will help prevent you from over-working yourself, said Melissa Hendricks, assistant director of wellness and fitness at GW’s Lerner Health and Wellness Center.

But Hendricks cautioned students on knowingly taking things too far. If a student doesn’t speak up or get help with their workouts, their complications may worsen, she said.

“People who do have an unhealthy exercise habit will actually try to avoid trainers because they are aware that what they are doing is unhealthy, and they do not want anyone to stop them,” she said.

Haney said Student Health doesn’t encounter very many of these problems, but statistics on gym overuse are largely unknown because most students will not seek help.

Hendricks said the University has acknowledged this problem on campus, and that gym staff and health directors are working with the University Counseling Center to find a way to reach out to these students.

“We need to make sure we are taking the right steps to help them,” she said. “We want to know how to get them in the long run.”

– Megan Marinos

“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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