Is bodybuilding healthy? That’s the next question I’m asked all the time and that I’ll be addressing in this week’s post. If you have a question you’d like to ask me about personal training, send it my way as a comment on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t forget to follow me while you’re there!
(Before getting started, I’m not going to discuss steroids or supplements in this post, just the practices often taken and their impact on physical and mental health. I may discuss steroids and supplements in a later post, but that topic is way too long for this one.)
Is Bodybuilding Healthy or Does This Sport Do More Harm than Good?
When you ask if bodybuilding is healthy, you’re asking quite a complex question. It’s like asking if running a marathon is healthy. It depends on your unique body, how you train, what you eat, what your fitness level is, and if you have any pre-existing conditions. So, the short answer is that yes, it can be, but not always.
“Is bodybuilding healthy?” has become a common question in recent years because there have been a lot of headlines about bodybuilders suffering serious chronic illnesses or even dying young. It’s a scary thought. That said, when you really think about it, it’s not completely unexpected.
Bodybuilders may be very careful about what they eat and spend a crazy amount of time at the gym. That sounds like it should mean that they should be at the top of their possible health. However, it’s not uncommon for them to go to extremes to meet their goals, too. Just like diet and exercise extremes for virtually any other goal, that’s where problems can really start.
How Can Bodybuilding Benefit Your Health?
As you ask yourself if bodybuilding is healthy, you need to break it down into the steps you would be taking to achieve your goals. In fact, you will even need to take a closer look at the goals themselves. Remember that this is unlikely to be a lifestyle that you’re going to keep up for many decades. So, it’s good to think of it in a shorter-term sense. Most health benefits will last only as long as you keep it up, so what lasting advantages exist and what drawbacks could there be that will outlive them?
The types of intense weightlifting and strength training taken on by bodybuilder will change their bodies. They become much stronger and leaner than the average person. Building this lean muscle mass can have both short- and long-term health benefits. For instance, building up muscle earlier in life can help to slow down the sarcopenia risk – muscle loss that comes with age – later in life. Therefore, people who build muscle earlier in life may be able to stay stronger longer.
Keeping up muscle mass can also help to contribute to bone health. Strength training causes bones to need to adapt to higher strain levels, becoming denser and stronger earlier in life. This may help to prevent osteoporosis onset and could reduce the risk of fractures and breaks later in life.
Is Bodybuilding Bad for Your Health?
Unfortunately, just as you can answer the question of whether bodybuilding is healthy in a positive way, there are definite drawbacks, too. Primary among those issues is heart health. While your muscles and bones may get an advantage from all that strength training, intense lifting isn’t as good for your heart.
Once you get into the region of lifting more than half your overall body weight, you may start causing strain on your heart. More specifically, this kind of regular extreme lifting can risk a tear to your aorta, which is a heart injury that can be fatal.
To be clear, moderate lifting is great for your heart and lung health, and I highly encourage it for overall wellness as well as the strength and function of those vital organs. When I talk about the potential harm, I’m referring to the extreme lifting that can become a part of the practice for bodybuilders who are trying to get huge.
Similarly, just as crash dieting is terrible for your health when your goal is to lose weight, the same can be said about the strict, extreme dieting many bodybuilders follow to get as big as possible while simultaneously getting as lean as possible. This often involves a nutritional imbalance with high protein intake while missing out on other vital nutrients. This is not always the case, but it is a very common practice. It’s among the reasons that I don’t definitively say “yes” or “no” when I’m asked if bodybuilding is healthy.
When I’m asked if bodybuilding is healthy, I don’t just take physical wellness into consideration. I recently wrote about how my workouts give me a sense of purpose. Research supports that. It also shows that resistance training can help to combat the symptoms of depression. That said, while the physical activity and regular schedule are great for my mental wellness, taking things to extremes could easily turn things in a negative direction.
The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation and the International OCD Foundation have both found that some bodybuilders – particularly men – can have a distorted view of their bodies, which is known as muscle dysmorphia. The effort to become bigger and leaner can contribute to this feeling of not being muscular or lean enough. It’s often compared to body dysmorphic disorder among dieters trying to lose weight. It can result in developing unhealthy behaviors, particularly sticking to extreme unhealthy diets, spending far too much time at the gym, or compulsively checking and measuring their bodies and/or comparing themselves to others.
So…Is Bodybuilding Healthy?
When it all comes down to it, my answer to the question “is bodybuilding healthy?” is going to have to be yes…and also no. It’s all in how it’s done.