Psychologist warns against excessive exercising

Kathy Stratton spoke to the College about monitoring exercising and not overdoing it. (Abby Hocking).

Students and faculty curious about the effects of exercising too much attended “Exercising: Is it Possible to Get too Much of a Good Thing?” Tuesday March 2, in the New Library Auditorium.

Kathy Stratton, a licensed psychologist with her own private practice in Princeton held a presentation that focused on the negative impact excessive amounts of exercise can cause.

Stratton listed warning signs that someone is beginning to cross the line between exercising to enhance performance and becoming dangerous, and asked people in the audience to stand if it applied to them.

Examples included, “You push yourself to exercise even when you are not feeling 100 percent,” Stratton said. “You increase your workout if you eat too much. You have trouble sitting still when you’re not exercising and you worry about your weight if you skip a workout.”

“Look around you,” Stratton said. “Probably 80 percent of you are standing up, and have hands up.”

Stratton shared confidential stories from two cases, while withholding the athletes’ last names.

The first account was a 23-year-old rower named Caitlin, who spent too much time running and weight training.

Because training was so unpredictable, Caitlin turned down an offer to attend graduate school at a prestigious university.

Stratton shocked the crowd by revealing that Caitlin did not have a problem at all. She is a woman who is training with an Olympic rowing team and vying for a spot on that squad.

“Until you know what is their motivation and what’s going on, you don’t really know,” Stratton said. “Here we have an example of someone who trains intensely, but doesn’t have a problem. There are people who exercise less frequently but can be on the other side.”

Motivation is a key factor when differentiating between a disciplined athlete and one that is in danger, Stratton explained.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the case of Melissa, a successful runner in high school who trained diligently and competed in national races.

When her coach told the team to run a certain number of miles, Melissa would run extra miles by straying off the course and then catching up with her team afterward.

She walked the two miles home from practice instead of getting a ride. She swam after dinner each night, but if she couldn’t make it to the pool, she did calisthenics in her bedroom.

“Here we have an elite athlete running at a national level and her exercise is effective to a certain extent but she became secretive, which can be dangerous,” Stratton said. “She walked by herself and added extra mileage. She didn’t tell the coaches and decided on her own to veer off. The secretive element raises an alarm.”

After Melissa got a stress fracture from training so hard, she was asked not to run by a doctor, but did not listen because she assumed the doctor was out of shape and did not know what was best for her.

“It comes down to what is the goal,” Stratton said. “If you are overtired, irritable or injured and you have a goal, but realize it isn’t working, that’s overtraining and can be corrected by rest. This is the classic burn out that most athletes feel.”

Stratton encouraged audience members to help friends who they see headed down this path.

“If you’re approaching another friend, let them know that you’re concerned,” Stratton said. “It can be scary, but it’s better for them to be mad at you and healthy and safe.”

After Stratton concluded her presentation, Hue-Sun Ahn, psychologist for the College’s Counseling and Psychological Service (CAPS) took the stage to provide further information about how students at the College can seek assistance.

“If you are concerned about a friend, consider our ‘Friends Helping Friends Program,’” Ahn said. “It’s important to be supportive friends and to understand it’s a psychological issue.”

Senior health and exercise science majors Amanda Gaal and Karen Lassoni persistently promoted the presentation. They handed out water bottles and cards with advertisements on them in the training room and at the gym, going as far as to place small cards on pieces of gym equipment, in an effort to raise awareness and offer assistance to those who needed it most.

“As part of our internship project, Karen and I decided to raise awareness about eating disorders and over-exercising,” Gaal said. “Since the athletic training room overlooks the gym, we see people who are in there for hours, over-exercising. We thought this talk would shed light on the issue and let athletes know that exercising can become a problem.”