Overtraining and Osteoporosis
Are you exercising too much? Eating too little? Have your
periods become irregular or stopped? If so, you may be putting yourself at high
risk for several serious problems that could affect your health, your ability
to remain active, and your risk for injuries. You also may be putting yourself
at risk for developing osteoporosis, a disease in which bone density is
decreased, leaving your bones vulnerable to fracture (breaking).
Why Is Missing My Period Such a Big Deal?
Some athletes see amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods)
as a sign of successful training. Others see it as a great answer to a monthly
inconvenience. And some young women accept it blindly, not stopping to think of
the consequences. But missing your menstrual periods is often a sign of
decreased estrogen levels. And lower estrogen levels can lead to osteoporosis,
a disease in which your bones become brittle and more likely to break.
Usually, bones become brittle and break when women are much
older, but some young women, especially those who exercise so much that their
periods stop, develop brittle bones, and may start to have fractures at a very
early age. Some 20-year-old female athletes have been said to have the bones of
an 80-year-old woman. Even if bones don’t break when you’re young, low estrogen
levels during the peak years of bone-building, the preteen and teen years, can
affect bone density for the rest of your life. And studies show that bone
growth lost during these years may not ever be regained.
Broken bones don’t just hurt - they can cause lasting
malformations. Have you noticed that some older women and men have a stooped
posture? This is not a normal sign of aging. Fractures from osteoporosis have
left their spines permanently altered.
Overtraining can cause other problems besides missed periods.
If you don’t take in enough calcium and vitamin D (among other nutrients) bone
loss may result. This may lead to decreased athletic performance, decreased
ability to exercise or train at desired levels of intensity or duration, and
increased risk of injury.
Who Is at Risk for These Problems?
Girls and women who may be trying to lose weight by restricting
their eating and/or engaging in rigorous exercise regimes are at risk for these
health problems. This may include serious athletes, "gym rats" (who
spend considerable amounts of time and energy working out), and/or girls and
women who believe "you can never be too thin."
"I was training really hard - all the time. Finally, my
parents made me quit the cross country team...I was eating almost nothing,
training with a stress fracture...I trained even when my body ached. I thought
the pain, the headaches, and the missed menstrual periods were normal. I
thought that was how a 'champion' was supposed to feel and train. I was proud
of myself for being so thin and disciplined, and losing all the 'baby fat' I
had carried throughout junior high school. My friends all said, “Gosh, you have
lost so much weight!” But I wasn't in control. After my parents made me quit
the team and took me to get help, I realized that my training regime was not
normal or healthy. I realized that I was hurting myself, and that I did not
have to be obsessive about my weight, eating habits, and exercise in order to
be attractive. I still exercise now, and I watch what I eat, but I am much more
relaxed, healthier (my doctor says!), and happier. I have more energy - and
more fun. I don’t have to set any records anymore, and I am a champion
- An athlete who recovered from problems associated with
overtraining and missed periods.