Do you only feel good when you are training for a marathon? Are you training for the next race despite having shin splints, or are you organising your entire life around exercise? Then you, my spandex-clad friend, may have an exercise addiction.
How do you know if you are dealing with addictive behaviour or just a love of working out? In most cases exercise is a healthy activity that brings physical, mental and emotional benefits. However, exercise addiction is an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise. It is often the result of body image disorders and eating disorders.
What causes exercise addiction?
Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine, which are the same neurotransmitters released during drug use. An exercise addict feels joy and reward when exercising. Exercise has to increase to trigger the chemical release.
Red flags that may indicate a tendency toward exercise addiction
If you are consumed with thoughts of exercise or weight gain prevention and working out multiple times a day, or if the importance of exercise triumphs over all other facets of life, you could be in danger. You should be concerned when insisting on continuing regular workouts despite injury or illness.
When is exercise too much?
Adults need about 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise per week (around 30 minutes per day), plus muscle strength training twice a week. A sudden increase in the amount of time spent working out – e.g. from 30 minutes a day to 2 hours a day – could be identified as a warning sign for exercise addiction.
What are the dangers?
Extreme weight loss and undernourishment could be a real threat. Women very often find problems with menstruation. Exercise addicts are often plagued with frequent injuries and in extreme cases, even death. This addiction will take over your life, weaken social relationships and lead to isolation.
Are you at risk?
Exercise, like being thin, is highly reinforced by society. Extreme exercise, like extreme diets attracts people who feel an extreme need for control in their lives. There are certain traits that many addicts share such as perfectionistic tendencies, high achieving personalities, and a preoccupation with body image, fear of weight gain or low self-esteem.
How is exercise addiction treated?
Getting the athlete to see that he or she has a problem and that change is necessary, is the first step. Athletes become addicted to “runners high”, caused by the release of feel good hormones. There is a change in the psyche, but eventually the adrenal gland burns out and they crash. What was once gratifying becomes painful and controlling. Treatment often includes encouraging patients to take up more social forms of exercise such as yoga or cycling instead of solitary pursuits of running or going to the gym, which can be a breeding ground for perfectionist pathology. An exercise addict may need to stop exercising altogether for a while in order to gain control of the desire to exercise. Psychotherapy may be part of the path to getting off the treadmill.
This addiction affects those who push too hard and exercise when they’re injured or exhausted or to the point that it adversely affects work and relationships. People who exercise with passion aren’t addicted; they’re what sport scientists refer to as “committed exercisers”.
So, unless you are about to lose your job because of your gym habit, or running marathons despite an injury, you’re probably not addicted to exercise.
The information on Fedhealth Medical Aid is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.