What are the Dangers of Exercise Addiction?

We can become addicted to more than just pharmaceutical drugs or alcohol.  Researchers are now noticing symptoms of addiction also to excessive exercise.  Does excessive exercise or over-training have negative side effects?  Could it harm health and cause premature ageing?  The research indicates yes, mainly because of increasing magnesium deficiency.

Apart from elite athletes and sports professionals who compete at a high level, more ordinary folk are now taking up regular gym training.  By and large this is a good strategy, especially if you have a sedentary office job.

The main health benefits of moderate regular exercise are…

1. Increase oxygen and blood circulation.

2. Lymph detox, because it moves around to eliminate protein wastes only in response to physical movement of the body (i.e. there is no separate pump like the heart for blood).

3. Trains muscles (including heart) to be strong. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

4. Strengthens bones – especially resistance exercises.

5. Keep fit, look younger and feel better about ourselves.

6. An antidote to depression because it triggers release of endorphins, which are natural feel good chemicals.

Why can some people get addicted to excessive exercise?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasurable activities, and the more pleasure something gives us, the more dopamine we generate in seeking and anticipating more of the same. It is also the precursor of the production of epinephrine (also called adrenaline), which increases excitement and getting ready for action.  So, if you like doing something, you get stimulated and really excited with the prospect of doing it again.  Like the Leo Sayer song, “You make me feel like dancing.”

Some people love their exercise regime so much they may keep seeking the dopamine rushes of pleasure, but the endorphins generated by the exercise have an opioid effect and are known to numb pain.  As pain is a way for the body to alert us to a problem, we may not notice when we have overdone the exercise, or whether we need more recovery. This can cause damage and health problems.

Why might it be hard to taper back?


It’s important to note that when we exercise or stress the body in any way, more magnesium is required for the process of metabolism.  Not all the magnesium is recycled by the kidneys and a lot can get lost with excessive stress.  If you put it all back and give the body a chance to recover and repair, no problem. However, these days we have much lower amounts of magnesium in the food supply, so excessive physical or emotional stress can quickly over-tax the system, leading to magnesium deficiency.

Individual variation is significant. Why can some people train a lot more and not feel negative side effects, while others are more sensitive to it?


The main reason is the lack of nutritional resources for the body to properly rest, repair and recover. Low magnesium reserves mean adrenaline and cortisol tend to be released at higher levels than required, even when you don’t need to be in fight or flight sympathetic mode.

This would make it hard to get a good deep recovery sleep. You feel as though you can’t come down from the excitement enough to relax and go into a deep sleep. The adrenaline keeps pumping in the background without restraint. We can feel edgy and agitated, can’t sit still and feel the need to move around. However, by increasing magnesium levels back to normal, it relaxes muscles and calms the GABAergic system by suppressing calcium and adrenal stimulation, which allows the body to move into more restful sleep. 

Why is it important to get deep recovery sleep? 

Sleeping Elektra

Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant hormone the brain uses to neutralise free radicals and wastes produced by metabolism.  The brain is a big consumer of energy, using about a quarter of the body’s energy (in adults). Melatonin helps to detox and clean up the metabolic mess during deep sleep.  If we don’t get a restful sleep and don’t produce enough melatonin, we wake up feeling washed out, grumpy, fatigued and foggy. The body/brain cannot function optimally without the antioxidant activity of melatonin.

Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland during deep sleep cycles, but is inhibited if too much adrenaline is still present. It works like a see-saw. Stress hormone up, melatonin down; stress hormone down, melatonin production up.  It’s important also, therefore, to make sure your bedroom doesn’t have stimulants that may trigger stress hormone release, such as mobile phone charging EMFs, television plugged in on stand-by, or lights shining in through the window. The pineal gland needs darkness and quiet to make the melatonin from the precursor serotonin. Melatonin production also relies on enough magnesium being available to synthesize these hormones.

Magnesium is also essential to produce other proteins including enzymes, collagen and elastin.  That means, when your muscle cells are recovering and rebuilding after exercise stress, the body uses magnesium to assemble amino acids into proteins to build the muscle, bone, ligaments, sinew etc.

It’s during deep sleep that most of this tissue repair happens.  The muscle fibre cells that have been damaged by the micro-tears of hard training and exercise, get rebuilt a bit stronger for the next time during restful sleep. In this way the stress of training builds stronger collagen structures, thereby strengthening muscle and bone. The body therefore uses nutrition and rest for the detoxification, dissipation of lactic acid, and rebuilding process.

How do we get cramps?

over exercise

If you perspire a lot and lose too much water and electrolytes (particularly magnesium), cramps will result. If you drink a lot of protein drinks and you get muscle cramps, it’s because there is not enough magnesium available. The body withdraws magnesium from stored tissue cell reserves in order the synthesize the consumed proteins and amino acids, and if reserves drop too low without replenishment, we get cramps.

Cramps are a sign the cell membrane has depolarised, causing water and magnesium to leak out.  Cramps are therefore a result of dehydration, that is, loss of both water and magnesium, allowing calcium to move into the channels to contract muscles involuntarily.

Calcium deposits, stiffness and risk of injury

Worsening magnesium deficiency symptoms mean that calcium eventually leaches out of the bones and settles in soft tissue, ligaments and joints, stiffening and hardening, and thereby increasing likelihood of inflammation and injury.  


Have you ever wondered by elderly people who have osteoporosis, also have excessive calcium deposits in arteries, muscles and joints, as well as high blood pressure from thickening blood?  It’s because of chronic magnesium deficiency causing calcium dysregulation. (Fawcett et al., 1999)

You need enough magnesium to get the calcium back in the bones for better bone health because it’s the magnesium that controls how the calcium is used in the body. The more acidic the body becomes, the more it draws calcium out of the bones, which then tends to settle in soft tissue and joints, making them stiffer, more painful or inflamed.  It also leads eventually to osteopenia and osteoporosis as the bones lose their calcium.

Have you ever noticed that calcium is attracted to sites of inflammation and you end up with crunchy residues after an injury?  This is because those areas become acidic and where the pH drops too low is where the body needs to send neutralising elements – like calcium or magnesium.  Magnesium behaves like an antioxidant to help neutralise free radicals (waste acids) and restore pH balance. If there isn’t enough magnesium, plan B is to take calcium out of the bones.

If you have a high metabolism (as in a lot of exercise) you would be producing more acid by-products and would need to have more compensating alkalising nutrition to buffer the acids and restore balance – or risk being dissolved by those acids!

What are the Dangers of Exercise Addiction? 1

Magnesium increases the hydrating capacity of water, so drink mineral water. It helps hold the water inside cells for better metabolism, electrical conductivity, detoxification and acid-buffering.

Magnesium also improves shock-absorbing capacity of bones by bringing more hydration to bone cells. Dry brittle bones break easily with a fall impact.

Having enough magnesium is essential, particularly if you put a lot of stress on your body – physically and emotionally.  It fortifies us and makes us stronger from the inside out.  Adequate magnesium improves and leverages performance, whereas magnesium deficiency weakens the body. Studies have shown that with optimal magnesium, less breaths and heartbeats are required for the same amount of work load.  In other words, the presence of magnesium leverages the oxygen use and capacity of the body, and you get more bang for your buck.  See studies by scientist Mildred Seelig on athletic performance. (Seelig, 1994)

Avoid burn-out symptoms and OVERTRAINING SYNDROME with proper rest and recovery, good diet, mineral water consumption, and making sure you get enough magnesium for individual needs. There is a large range of needs amongst individuals, and T-shirt doesn’t fit all.

Transdermal magnesium delivers more magnesium faster than oral tablets and powders for optimal and high-end magnesium needs, as it bypasses the digestive system.  You can tailor the amount applied to cater for individual needs – higher or lower – without fear of negative side effects or overdose. To find out more about how much you may need, have a look at our FAQ page.

The skin’s epidermal layer in this way acts as a substantial nutritional reservoir where the body simply absorbs what it needs, when it needs, to replenish internal stores for equilibrium and magnesium homeostasis.  Transdermal magnesium absorption is a beautiful and natural self-regulating system, which gives us feedback according to supply.  All we need to do is to offer up enough nutrient into that ‘smoragsboard’ skin reservoir.

By Sandy Sanderson © 2020

LINK TO PODCAST with Dr Jamie Turndorf


Fawcett, W. J., Haxby, E. J., & Male, D. A. (1999). Magnesium: Physiology and pharmacology. BJA: British Journal of Anaesthesia, 83(2), 302–320.

Seelig, M. S. (1994). Consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications (a review). J Am Coll Nutr, 13(5), 429–446.

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