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Over-exercising remains a concern

Katie Peralta | Friday, January 15, 2010

As students return to campus filled with ambitious New Year’s resolutions and goals for getting fit for Spring Break, Notre Dame recreation facilities see an influx of students and faculty eager to work out, especially in light of the recent registration for fitness classes.
Some, however, take their exercise to the extreme.

Over-exercising, also called compulsive exercising, is when an individual engages in strenuous physical activity to a point that is no longer safe nor healthy, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Health Education Web site.

Jennifer Phillips, assistant director of RecSports, said posters warning about the dangers of over-exercising were recently submitted by a group of design students for exhibition in Rolf’s Sports Recreation Center.

 “The posters were not necessarily in response to anything in particular,” Phillips said, but added that compulsive exercising nevertheless is a problem on campus.

“It’s hard to quantify,” she said. “But you can tell it exists by casual observation. People need to know that there are resources available [on campus.]

“When there is cause for concern about an individual in one of our programs or facilities, we seek the expertise of specialists on campus to provide guidance.”

Such resources are provided by the University Counseling Center (UCC) in St. Liam’s Hall.

 “[Over-exercising] is a much bigger problem than we are aware of here,” Valerie Staples, a counselor and eating disorder specialist at the UCC said. “At any time of day, you can look around and see someone running on campus.”

Staples said identifying compulsive exercising as a problem is difficult.

“Exercise is such an asset in our culture,” Staples said. “It’s really hard to see it as a bad thing. When people start planning their lives around exercise, however, it becomes a problem.”

Compulsive exercising, Staples said, for many can be a control issue as well that aligns with the high achieving mentality commonplace at an institution like Notre Dame.

“[People think] ‘you can always do more,'” she said, and added that the difference between stress management and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle ought to be examined critically with the issue of compulsive exercise.

Staples identified Notre Dame as an institution rampant in competition in areas from academics to appearance, further fostering environments of extremism.

While over-exercising is not itself identified as an eating disorder, Staples said, it often comes hand-in-hand with disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

In the 2007-08 academic year, 12 percent of student cases at the UCC were identified as eating concerns, Staples said. This number fell to 10.6 percent the following academic year.

These kinds of body image issues, she said, often arise at points of stressful transition in a person’s life, often between the ages of 17-25 and also during middle age years.

Staples said is not uncommon for universities to limit the amount of time or the frequency with which students utilize fitness facilities, but Notre Dame, Phillips said, has no such limitations in place.

“We do not have any policies limiting the frequency of use by an individual,” Phillips said, although Rolf’s and the Rockne Memorial both have time limitations on certain exercise machines.

Students who have concerns about compulsive exercising are encouraged to contact the UCC by visiting their St. Liam’s Hall office or by calling 631-7336.