For many of us, exercising is part of our daily or weekly routine. The amount of exercise and intensity varies between all of us. Some professional athletes such as triathletes push the human body to its extremes due to the nature of its disciplines and the external rewards that come from it. But many of us exercise to keep fit and healthy alongside our day jobs and family. The majority of us participate in some form of activity or exercise because we know it is good for the mind and the body. The U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016 highlighted that regular exercise helps to:
- Control your weight
- Reduce heart disease
- Manage blood sugar and insulin levels
- Increases positivity and mood
- Strengthens bones and muscles
- Improves sleep.
However, the study also indicated that there was 3% of the population where striving to be fit and healthy was causing them more harm than good. Exercise addiction can be seen highest amongst professional athletes such as runners or triathletes. But is now creeping slowly into general society as a whole. Why may this be the case? An understanding of the body’s physiology may shed some light on this. During exercise we release chemicals from the brain called endorphins. This hormone helps relieve pain and stress through the body. And naturally, this is a nice and comforting feeling. Alongside endorphins, there are other hormones that also play a part in the relieving of stress and pain. These include Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine. Some of us maybe chasing an “Exercise High” or report a “Post Workout Bliss” after exercising. This is where we experience euphoria and well-being. This experience, we call a “natural high” and its duration after exercise is limited by the type and intensity of exercise. For more information on this, click on the link below,
BUT CAN IT BE ADDICTIVE TO SOME OF US? The answer is yes. It would seem pushing the body to its extreme is addictive. The overall feeling of euphoria during and post-workout would seem to be addictive. For some of us, losing weight and seeing a drastic change in our body shape through exercise is rewarding. Can it be too rewarding? Can we over train, in our pursuit of the perfect body and look? The answer is yes!!
Is this a reason why some regular exercisers complain of withdrawal symptoms when they miss exercise sessions? Does exercise addiction fall within the field of behavioural addictions similar to gambling? This could very well be the case, however there is a lack of sustained methodical evidence for this to be listed as a psychological dysfunction. From what we know, individuals who are addicted to exercise lose control over their exercise habits and act compulsively. They experience negative consequences to health as well as their social and professional life.
The consequences of this include:
- Lack of sleep,
- Poor concentration,
- Sense of restlessness
- In some cases painful withdrawal symptoms
- Loss of muscle mass
- Joint damage
All of which, affect the normal daily functioning of individuals. These symptoms sound very closely related to those individuals of any addiction, except the drug of choice in this example is exercise!
So how do you know if you are addicted to exercise? What are you looking for? This is not always easy, but a good starting point is to ask yourself a few questions. The key here is to be honest with yourself, when answering them.
“How often do I exercise?”
“How long is my typical workout?
“Why do I exercise?”
“What are my exercise goals?”
“Do I enjoy exercising?”
“Have my family and friends seen a change in me?”
“Have I become socially recluse?”
So how much exercise should we be taking each day or week? The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology advocates that healthy adults between 18-64 years of age, should partake in 150 minutes of moderate 5-6 Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to vigorous 7-8 RPE a week for 30 minutes a day. This recommendation of daily and weekly exercise is a good start in understanding what is needed for the general population. However, there will always be small pockets of the population who will abuse such recommendations. Be it gambling or exercise, both are very addictive. Friends and family are just as important in helping with this addiction. Like any addiction, the person too has to want to stop or in this case change their exercise habits. By doing so, they are still committed exercisers who engage in physical activity but do not suffer withdrawal symptoms when they miss sessions. Life balance of everything they do is fundamental to their health and well-being. Embracing an attitude which is conducive to sustainable long-term physical, psychological and social health outcomes.
Exercise Addiction: Review Article. Sport Medicine Journal, New York. Published 21st December 2012.
Szabo, A Griffiths, M, D Vegas Marcos, R Mervo, B &Demetrovics (2015). Methodological & Conceptual Limitations in Exercise Addiction Research. Yale University Bio Med Journal.
“Why endorphins (and exercise) make you happy” CNN Health. Kristen Domonell& Daily Burn, January 13th, 2016. Edition CNN.com (2016/01/13).
Disclaimer: The exercises and information provided by Fit Futures Learning Institute (T/A Fit Futures Academy) (www.fitfutures.co.nz) are for educational and entertainment purposes only, and are not to be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product or course of action. Read the full content disclaimer.