It’s not uncommon to be very passionate about something; often, people are passionate about their careers, hobbies, family, or friends. However, such a thing as taking that passion one step too far and “hobby” becomes an addiction. For example, someone may love playing video games but not realize how many hours they spend sitting in front of the TV because it has become an obsession.
Similarly, there is such a thing as exercise addiction – and it can turn into more than just a hobby — it can be detrimental to your physical and emotional health. So what exactly is exercise addiction? As with most addictions and compulsions that involve intense desires for activities or substances that typically aren’t harmful on their own, exercise addiction can involve symptoms similar to other addictions, such as obsession and withdrawal symptoms. While it may not necessarily sound like a bad thing to everyone, there are real dangers from being addicted to exercise.
In this article, we’ll talk about what exactly constitutes exercise addiction, along with some of the risks associated with it. A study published in 2016 in the journal “Advance for Nutrition Therapists” found that 50% of people who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder – which includes anorexia and bulimia – were also considered to be addicts. There is a solid connection between exercise and eating disorders – so why do these two exist together so often?
Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) believes there is a link between obsessive exercise and eating disorders. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that only 1 in 10 people receive treatment or help for addiction issues, so, likely, these studies are just scratching the surface of something hazardous.
A study published in 2016 by researchers at Rush University Medical Center found that older adults who spent more time exercising were 30% less likely to develop dementia when compared with those who didn’t. This means good things when you put your mind to it! However, can you have too much of a good thing?
“Exercise has tremendous benefits,” says Dr. Charles D’Angelo, a family medicine physician with Lee Health in Fort Myers, Fla. “However, despite the benefits of exercise over our lifespan, over-exercising can cause medical problems and decrease your quality of life.”
If you feel like you are exercising too frequently or think about it when you aren’t working out, this may indicate that you have an addiction to exercise. Some steps can be taken to reduce the psychological symptoms without cutting down on physical activity.
While extreme workout routines require professional help for treatment options such as substance abuse programs, here are some things anyone who thinks they might have an issue can do:
- Seek support from family and friends
- Talk to your doctor about healthy ways to reduce stress.
- Try alternative therapies, such as yoga and meditation.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes whole foods, legumes, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
It should be noted that the NEDA makes it clear that if you are suffering from an eating disorder or feeling out of control with your exercise routine, it’s essential to get help right away – contact your local mental health professional or seek treatment at an addiction recovery center. While many people suffer from exercise addiction on their own without noticing any severe problems or consequences until they are much older, there are cases where it presents itself during school years. If you’re worried about someone you know who might have an issue with exercise, look for these signs of compulsive exercise:
- They spend an unusual amount of time working out.
- They are resistant to reducing the duration or intensity of their workouts.
- Their workouts cause mental distress when they cannot complete them.
- They have physical symptoms, such as injuries related to exercising.
There are numerous health risks associated with compulsive exercising, including disc injury, stress fractures, and lung infections. As always, the earlier a problem is discovered, the easier it will be to treat! If you suspect someone might be suffering from this type of addiction, they must get professional help right away.