Top 5 Reasons Exercise Is Bad For You

There are people who need to exercise, and who absolutely benefit from exercise. But exercise also has a dark side – dangerous disadvantages that affect thousands of people each day.

There are people who need to exercise, and who absolutely benefit from exercise.

Exercise has rescued obese individuals from a sedentary lifestyle, saved men and women from being ravaged by cardiovascular disease, and allowed for athletes to train their body to perform above and beyond normal capacity.

But exercise also has a dark side – dangerous disadvantages that affect thousands of people each day, and those disadvantages can be summed up in these top 10 reasons exercise is bad for you.


Consistent exercise causes the body to produce endorphins, which are hormones secreted by your pituitary gland to block pain, decrease anxiety and create feelings of euphoric happiness. But endorphins are chemically similar to the drug morphine, and so for many people, compulsive exercise can be psychologically addictive. For regular exercisers, and especially for bodybuilders, triathletes, cyclists or marathoners, reducing or stopping exercise suddenly – or even missing one single workout – can result in depression, stress and anxiety. This “mouse on a wheel” attraction to exercise can result in overtraining, missing family obligations and social gatherings because of an intense “need” to exercise, and a worry that fitness will be lost or weight will gain with a day of missed exercise. The pursuit of exercise turns from a way to experience the beauty of nature or spend time with friends to a feeling of going to work or being stuck in a rut.

The Fix:

Include at least one day per week in which you do not exercise or your exercise involves no structure (such as playing a new sport). Unless you are paid for your physical performance, if your exercise ever begins to feel like a job, then switch to something new and fresh. Finally, engage in alternate ways to satisfy your brain, including cooking, wine tasting, music, new books, social events, and sex. If you do find yourself addicted to exercise, consider cognitive behavioral therapy, neurofeedback, and in severe cases, pharmaceutical interventions to break the addiction. Exercise addiction is not worth destroying your body and relationships.


In one study, British researchers examined 12 runners and rowers with an average age of 57, who each had completed a total of 43 years of consistent training and 178 marathons, 65 ultramarathons, and 4 Ironman triathlons. Half of the athletes showed signs of fibrosis, or scarring of heart tissue, compared to none of age-matched “non-exercising” controls. In addition, wear and tear of years of heavy-duty workouts or lifelong endurance exercise can weaken heart muscles – predisposing you to a condition called “ventricular arrhythmia” in which the heart beats erratically. This is probably due to damage to the right chamber of the heart, which can disrupt normal heart rate and rhythm, and this has literally put an end to the career of several pro endurance athletes, who engage in the type of training necessary for this problem to occur.

The Fix:

Avoid excessive exercise, especially a combination of high intensity and high volume workouts. If you do find yourself in this situation, such as during the build-up to an Ironman triathlon, then engage in good warm-ups and proper cool-downs after each workout, and include at least one total recovery day. As much as possible, try to avoid competing in events such as an Ironman triathlon or ultra-marathon more than once per year.


Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological disorder in which you are excessively concerned about a perceived defect in your physical features, such as your arm or leg muscles being to small or your waistline not being thin enough. This can result in heavy, often socially isolated exercise to “repair the defect”. Typically, this type of activity can begin in adolescence or early adulthood, but can stay with you your entire life as you strive to achieve or maintain the “perfect body”. You may turn to bodybuilding, marathoning, cycling or any other activity which uses the same muscles over and over again to try to hammer away at your perceived defects, even when it comes to the detriment of your joints or health. If you don’t have the time to exercise and address what you perceive to be a significant body issue, this can result in depression, social anxiety, and even social phobia, or complete avoidance of being in public, especially where your body might be exposed. Often, you might justify your behavior by believing that you are a serious athlete who can never work too hard or too long at your sport, and this can often lead to excessive and addictive exercise in an attempt to control or lose weight, or sometimes to gain muscle or “sculpt” a body part.

The Fix:

Learn to accept yourself for who you are, and understand that you are your own worst critic. Unless you’re an actor or a model, most other people really don’t care what your body looks like, so there’s no reason to be embarrassed. Striving for a perfect body is an uphill battle that will always result in failure at some point, probably when you’re 60, 70 or 80. There’s nothing wrong with looking good, but don’t become obsessed about it unless your income depends on it.


In 2010, The Wall Street Journal published the article “A Workout Ate My Marriage”, describing how couples become increasingly conflicted as a spouse becomes obsessed with a particular exercise goal, such as extreme weight loss or an Ironman triathlon – to the detriment of time spent with family. Often, since the exercise goal can be justified as “noble”, it is difficult for a spouse or family member to negotiate with the over-exerciser to spend more time with family.

The Fix:

If your goals require you to exercise “excessively”, then at least attempt to include family in exercise. Join a gym with free childcare so you and the spouse can exercise together, get a jogging stroller and bicycle trailer, and train indoors with the kids at home so a spouse can go enjoy free time.


In my book “Holistic Fueling For Ironman Triathletes”, I discuss the propensity for endurance athletes to spend lots of time at coffeeshops and bakeries, engaging in daily chronic consumption of scones, big “healthy” muffins, baked goodies, bagels and artisan breads. Later in the evening, post “long training day”, they’re back to pastas, lasagnas, spaghettis, pizzas, and more carbohydrate laden foods. And in between these meals is a constant, steady intake of sugar packed energy bars, energy gels, energy drinks and energy chews. Not only do these constantly surging blood sugar levels cause sugar addiction and damage to blood vessels and nerves, but they vastly increase risk for Type II diabetes as the cell surface receptors for insulin eventually become less and less sensitive to elevated insulin levels attempting to shove all the extra sugar into the muscles.

The Fix:

Break the sugar addiction. Go two weeks on a low carbohydrate diet, even if it means that exercise levels are decreased. If you’re addicted to exercise, changing to a lower carbohydrate intake can be near to impossible, so often, you must FIRST break the exercise addiction and then break the sugar addiction. This may require something as dramatic as an extended vacation to a place where A) you only have access to healthy food and B) do not have your bike, your gym, your swimsuit and goggles, and your running shoes.