Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Most doctors recommend thirty minutes of physical activity per day to get your heart pumping, muscles working, and the rest of your organs in prime condition. Not to mention, exercise releases those feel-good endorphins in your brain that give you that rush of satisfaction after a workout. So it may come as a surprise that the old adage ‘too much of a good thing can be bad’ applies to exercise as well. In fact, it’s possible to form an unhealthy addiction to working out that negatively affects your mental and physical health.
In many cases, exercise addiction is strongly correlated with an eating disorder or body image dysmorphia. Similarly, those prone to exercise addiction usually possess existing unhealthy addictions to other vices such as gambling, smoking, or alcohol. Yet the exact numbers are very limited and skewed since many people fail to self-report an addiction. Even healthy individuals without prior addictions or any indication of eating or body image disorders can develop an addiction to exercise.
How can you tell whether you may be developing exercise addiction? Common symptoms include obsession over exercise, the inability to control the desire for exercise, the prioritization of exercise over other aspects of daily life, and the continuance of excessive exercise despite a strong desire to stop the behavior or despite experiencing physical harm through this behavior.
Since exercise releases endorphins that stimulate happiness and pleasure in the brain, it’s widely believed that exercise addiction is due to dependence on these brain chemicals. Thus, a person yearns to obtain that ‘good’ feeling and exercises more and more in order to do so.
As a direct result of excessive exercise, a number of health issues can manifest such as heart arrythmias, muscle strains, and even plaque build-up that clogs arteries, restricts blood circulation, and puts a person at a higher risk for a heart attack or stroke.
If you are concerned that you may fall prone to an unhealthy exercise addiction, it’s important to utilize self control and distraction techniques (engaging in activities other than exercise) to combat this issue. A strong mental outlook is needed to reverse the negative toll this unhealthy dependence has placed on your life.
A healthy lifestyle balance is key to preventing exercise addiction. If you’re training for a marathon which requires additional hours of strenuous workouts, spread them out in a manageable schedule with shorter bursts of exercise.
Follow the recommended workouts in a safe way and avoid exercising for more than 3 hours per day. Stop working out when you experience pain or discomfort. Don’t feel you must resort to pushing yourself.