When does exercise become abuse?

Do we cross the line and allow exercise to become abuse?

When does exercise become abuse?

We all know exercise is good for us. It helps to keep our minds and bodies in shape and able to have the fitness required to purposefully engage in school, study or work, and in our personal lives. However there has been a growing trend in recent years for exercise to be taken to the extremes.

We’ve always had competition between and within the genders around physical strength and the types of bodies that are rated as fit, ‘ripped’ and ‘hot’. For men it’s the abdominal muscles clearly visible, complete with the bulging biceps type of image of someone who is then viewed as ‘super fit’. For women, the picture of fitness can vary slightly but she is expected to have a tanned and oiled well-toned body, flat stomach, tight abdominal muscles and still have her womanly curves. To complete the perfect appearance, bodies are expected to be as hairless as possible.

Improving appearance/body-image, increasing physical strength, competing with and comparing ourselves to others in the quest to be the best at whatever sport or type of exercise we have chosen are the common goals. The end result justifies the means and pushing our bodies regardless of the risk is considered necessary to meet the pictured definitions of being fit, strong and healthy. This activity does help to achieve a degree of physical fitness and undoubtedly, pushing ourselves physically gets the adrenals pumping in the short term, but what is the overall impact of investing in exercising in this way?

Elite sports are an area where we can clearly see that the line has been crossed and what is deemed to be sport, aka exercise, has become abuse. When we step back and look at what happens at the professional sports level, it’s clear to see that there are huge warning bells ringing regarding what happens when we take exercise to extreme lengths. It comes with a whole consciousness about ‘national pride’, ‘being the best’, ‘competing to bring out the best in a person’, winning, money, fame, recognition, status and setting the trend for definitions of physical strength and appearance, with the overall message being that it is worth it at any cost.

We easily override and dismiss what is happening with our sports heroes mentally and physically as being an acceptable price to pay. We look up to, admire, mimic and even idolise them; their toughness, the way they play hard, take the hits, the head knocks and the falls, and keep pushing on regardless of injuries. It all gets cheered and applauded from the sidelines. Medical staff are on hand to get players back into the game/pool/ring etc. as soon as possible. The long term impacts of repeated severe musculoskeletal injuries and multiple surgeries are factored out or only given tokenistic lip service due to what’s at stake in the here and now. Research is primarily focussed on how to enhance strength and performance and push the body to even greater lengths and how to reduce recovery time, rather than on the true impacts of elite sport on both the physical and mental bodies. It’s fast paced and a multibillion dollar industry which the media feasts upon and the public willingly laps up.

It all highlights how obsessed we are with the roller coaster stimulation that comes with the roar of the crowd and the ups and downs of the way the game or the event results go, and even who is winning the local workplace footy tipping competition! We don’t want to see the dark side of what is happening such as the fact that current and former elite athletes experience high rates of anxiety and depression and alcohol misuse.[1] Yet, these are supposedly people who have everything the everyday person can only aspire to attain! So what are we missing?

Whether we are an elite sports person or an average person wanting to get or remain fit, when we treat our bodies as secondary to the dictates of our minds, we cross the line and exercise becomes abuse.

We are no longer valuing and honouring our bodies for the finely honed, intricately designed multidimensional forms that they are. We are not talking about elite sports people here who we know push their bodies to extremes; it is everyday people who are now treating their bodies in this way. The usual way of living has become very mentally driven where we look to the outside world for the guideposts on how we should live our lives; what we should look like, how we should dress, be in a relationships, what to eat and drink, what we do in our spare time and in every other aspect of day to day living.

Let’s take the use of nutrition and body building supplements as a more personal example. The Australian gym and fitness industry has become a multibillion dollar business with products claiming to dissolve body fat, build muscle and help a person build endurance and stamina so they can work out harder and for longer.[2] The promise of increased self-worth is deeply embedded in the sale of these products. Men particularly, along with a growing number of women, flock to supplementation, literally buying the ‘next best thing’ on the market by the bucket load, looking for a quick solution to feel better about their appearance and to get so called ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’.

As Convery notes in her writing on this subject, “Together they represent a corporate juggernaut fuelled by the idolisation of sports stars on one hand and the cultural obsession with fitness and a particular Instagrammable aesthetic on the other.”.[2] Nutrition comes in as a secondary consideration and as is the norm, where there is a demand, there will be a willing supplier. People often order in items from overseas, knowing that they are buying products that have not been approved as safe for use within their own country, but swayed by the promise of what these supplements claim to deliver, willingly take the risk.[2]

Anabolic-androgenic steroid abuse is a growing problem amongst the everyday population, particularly males and their use is closely associated with poor body image—most specifically, muscle dysmorphia.[3] However it’s a double edged sword because on the one hand the user quickly gains increased strength and muscle bulk, but on the other hand, they frequently also experience increased rates of anger, irritability, depression and insomnia as common side effects, potentially along with other serious illness such as heart attacks, strokes, liver tumours and kidney failure.[3] The steroids are often injected which can lead to further health risks from the use of non-sterile needles and needle sharing.

We’ve all heard to the term ‘roid rage’ to describe the aggressive behaviour that can result from steroid misuse. Because the people concerned are physically strong and fit they can be very dangerous. Anecdotally, speaking with healthcare workers, I’m aware that staff find managing these aggressive behaviours far more difficult than that of someone experiencing extreme psychosis or other forms of mental illness when coming into the hospital setting. Now imagine living with that either as a partner, child, or other family member or friend, let alone what it must feel like in a person’s body!

Exercise is seen by most as something they ‘should do’, a chore, and so they push themselves to go for a walk, bike ride, the pool, a run, the gym, or join in a team sport etc. Exercise is also viewed as a prelude to a reward at the end where it justifies the glass of wine or beer, pizza or chocolate or ‘chilling out’ in front of a screen. Do we ever stop and consider what this must be like from our body’s perspective? One minute we are physically driving ourselves hard regardless of if our bodies are screaming in protest or not, and the next moment we are hitting our body with food and drinks and activities that cause a further drain on adrenal and physical energy and stress on our organs. And we wonder why we feel exhausted, yet have difficulty sleeping!!!

"We do whatever it is we want to in complete ignorance of what it does to the body we have to live in and with, sleep in and take around each and every day of our life - and then we want someone to change it or take away the pain, but not change what we do to the body."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 621

The truth is that our bodies are not just for functional purposes; they are extremely responsive to how we are experiencing life. The reality is that we constantly have energy passing through us e.g., our feelings and emotions. Our bodies are so sensitive to energy that they pick up what is happening in and around us faster than our minds – but we treat our brain as if it is our epicenter and we assume that our thoughts are facts!

It can be hard to let go of all the ideals and beliefs we hold around believing that intelligence is something that is mentally construed, especially when everything in life around us rewards that type of intelligence. Yet, there is actually a growing bank of scientific research that shows that our heart responds to energy and sends the messages to our brain and not the other way around as we have long assumed.[4] When we connect with the intelligence that is coming through our bodies we have access to a completely different bank of intelligence that is far more expansive, universal and truer than what our thoughts alone can ever deliver to us. Can we be humble enough to admit that we have been caught in a lie and that the way we regularly treat our bodies, not just during exercise but in everyday life, is abusive?

Taking the time to listen to and honour what our bodies are communicating to us when and as we exercise can seem like we are taking the slow boat approach to getting fit. Perhaps we feel lazy or that we are letting the team down if we don’t train hard, often and fast. It can seem at odds with our pictured outcomes to actually slow down and not push our bodies unnecessarily hard and let go of the belief that ‘no pain’, means ‘no gain’.

Yet, what if our bodies responded by leaving us feeling more energised, light, strong and flexible if we exercised gently and in the rhythm and flow of what our body is calling for? Some days we may feel like doing a lot of movement and other days very little. There is no right and wrong – it is all governed by our body.

"The body never punishes us, it gives back what we have put in."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 621

The amazing thing is that our minds also respond beautifully when we approach exercise in this way. It’s not about trying to stop our thoughts as our brains will always be processing information. What is important is the quality of our thoughts. If we are placing demands and expectations on ourselves to exercise in a certain way and for a certain time etc. without giving any consideration to the impact on our body, then we are likely to be fed critical thoughts telling us we need to exercise harder, do more or risk not getting anywhere.

On the other hand, if we lovingly consider how and what type of exercise our body is calling for, then our thoughts hold a completely different vibration. The quality of our thoughts and the insights that drop in are gold because we have allowed our exercise to support our bodies in a loving way. There is no battle going on internally between our minds and our bodies and thus each part works in harmony with the other.

Let’s get back to basics with our exercise and from this point forward say ‘no’ to abuse and ‘yes’ to truly supporting the true union of our bodies and minds so they can work in the beautiful synchronicity they were each uniquely designed to do!


  • [1]

    Gouttebarge, V., et al., Occurrence of mental health symptoms and disorders in current and former elite athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2019. 53(11): p. 700-706 Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31097451

  • [2]

    Convery, S. Extreme Gains: How the Sports Supplement Industry Bulked Up. Health 2019 [cited 2021 15/05/21]; Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/09/extreme-gains-how-the-sports-supplement-industry-bulked-up

  • [3]

    NIDA. How Does Anabolic Steroid Misuse Affect Behavior? 2021 [cited 2021 15/05/21]; Available from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/how-does-anabolic-steroid-misuse-affect-behavior

  • [4]

    Rozman, D. Let Your Heart Talk to Your Brain. HuffPost Wellness 2017 [cited 2020 01/02/20]; Available from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/heart-wisdom_b_2615857

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