Excessive Physical Exercise in Adolescents

Today, we'll talk about excessive physical exercise in adolescents: Its causes, consequences, and ways to treat or prevent this situation.
Excessive Physical Exercise in Adolescents
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 09 February, 2023

Everyone knows that physical activity is good for your health. Staying active is, without a doubt, an indispensable condition for being and feeling well. However, excessive physical exercise can be counterproductive and lead to serious problems . The truth is that many habits that a priori seem to contribute to physical and mental health, often generate the opposite effect.

One of the factors that can lead a person to exercise compulsively is a distortion in body image . This altered perception often occurs during the period of adolescence, when the individual is immersed in a stage of full transformation.

In this article, we’ll talk precisely about the causes and consequences of excessive physical exercise in adolescents and mention some strategies to prevent this problem.

Physical activity in adolescents

The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that children and adolescents between 5 and 18 years of age should do 60 minutes of moderate-intensity or vigorous aerobic physical activity per day. In contrast, intense aerobic and weight-lifting activities should be performed an average of three times a week.

The point is that while many adolescents lead sedentary lives, other young people push the limits of what’s desirable and expose their bodies to intense training for hours on end every day. Whether they spend a large part of their day in the gym, run excessively , or play a sport compulsively, some young people fail to measure their training according to what’s advisable for their health.

A teenager training for soccer.
Often, physical exercise becomes the priority in adolescents’ lives and leads them to neglect other areas, such as studies, social ties or leisure.

What leads adolescents to engage in excessive physical exercise?

Adolescence is marked by physical and emotional changes. It’s a particularly sensitive and vulnerable stage, where individuals face multiple social demands. Therefore, one of the strongest and most damaging mandates is based on physical appearance. Consequently, if young people wish to fit into socially accepted beauty patterns, they must dress and shape their bodies in a specific way.

Fortunately, in recent years, the canons of beauty have been questioned by groups of people tired of having to deal with a series of established impositions. Still, low self-esteem, insecurities, or the need to escape from some emotional problem may drive adolescents to exercise uncontrollably. As we can see, excessive physical exercise can occur for multiple reasons.

The harmful consequences

In truth, any excessive behavior ends up harming the person who engages in it. Even when they’re healthy behaviors or habits, but aren’t incorporated in their proper measure.

Together with other factors, social mandates have a psychological impact on adolescents and can lead to severe problems, such as vigorexia, which refers to the obsession and compulsion for physical activity. This is an addiction closely associated with eating disorders and is common in adolescents with fixed ideas about their appearance.

In addition to the psychological and emotional damage, excessive physical activity can lead to other complications such as physical complications  such as the following:

A teenager running.
The fact that young people are interested in physical exercise and want to feel comfortable with their bodies isn’t a problem. The conflict arises when it leads them to adopt excessive attitudes.

How to prevent excessive physical exercise in young people

It’s essential to clarify that only health professionals are able to determine if there’s an addiction to sports or excessive physical activity. They’ll evaluate the person’s situation and, by taking into account the diagnostic criteria characteristic of a behavioral addiction, they’ll be able to determine the type and seriousness of the problem.

However, the work of prevention is incumbent on all of us as a society, whether or not we’re directly involved in the problem. What’s certain is that each one of us can do our bit to help young people feel good without the need to overdo it with physical training.

Adults must set an example and accompany young people

It’s important that we adults lean towards balance. This can be through our own example, such as going to the gym with a controlled frequency, or by giving importance to rest. Also, through the messages we expressly convey: “You have to stay active to feel and look good, beyond the visible results on the body”. “Rest is just as paramount as exercise.” .

In any case, if you notice the young person is very reluctant to decrease training, going to a consultation with a psychotherapist is a good idea. In this space, they’ll be able to work more deeply on their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Antolin, V., De la Gándara, J., García, I., Martín, A. (2009). Adicción al deporte: ¿Moda postmoderna o problema sociosanitario? Norte de Salud Mental, ISSN-e 1578-4940, Vol. 8, Nº. 34, 2009, págs. 15-22.
  • Gadea, S. (2006). La adicción al ejercicio se convierte en enfermedad que combina problemas psicológicos. Director técnico de medicina deportiva y cultura física del IMSS.
  • Gonzalez Martí, I. (2015). El exceso de ejercicio físico como consecuencia del trastorno dismórfico muscular (vigorexia). Tándem: Didáctica de la educación física, ISSN 1577-0834, Nº 48, 2015, págs. 7-13.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.