Note: This bi-weekly blog was inspired by my concern for a loved one, that without a doubt, is engaging in exercise addiction. My concern for this person, along with discussion with my own personal trainer about this issue, provided the impetus for this writing.
Society is inundated with messages about how we all should exercise more for optimal health. We are told that we need to get our blood pumping more, do a combination of cardiovascular exercise as well as strength training to keep our weight in check, and to feel at our best.
But what happens, when exercise becomes an addiction? Believe it or not, even something that is labeled as ‘healthy’ can in fact become self-destructive; even deadly.
What is exercise addiction?
Exercise addiction basically has, like any other addiction, 7 components:
Loss of Control: The individual loses control over the ability to listen to their body, and starts becoming slave if you will to the addiction. They have to exercise all the time, for countless hours in order to feel ok.
Continuance: Despite injuries, and all indicators that they should in fact take a breather from exercise/days off, they continue to engage in activity, often increasing injuries/damage done.
Intention Effects: Like any other addiction, the intention is to go as long as possible. Like an alcoholic that drinks to get drunk. The exercise addict exercises to the point of absolute exhaustion, for fear that if they don’t , they will not feel as good.
Time: Experts recommend, for optimal health: roughly 30-45 minutes of continuous exercise 3-5 days a week. The exercise addict will often engage in the behavior for multiple hours a day, and always- 7 days a week. They take no days off.
Reduction in other activities and/or interests: The exercise addict will often refrain from engaging in any other activities. And even if they do engage in other interests, those interests are usually in an effort to burn more calories.
Tolerance: As time marches on, the exercise addict needs to exercise more and more in order to achieve the desired effect. I once worked with an individual who lost his high paying job because he had worked his way up to working out 7-8 hours a day in the gym.
Withdrawal: The individual with the exercise addiction will become quite depressed or anxious when they are forced to take a day off (for whatever reason… traveling, etc.). Just like an alcoholic or drug addict, without their ‘drug’, they experience unpleasant symptoms when they do not have the ability to engage in the behavior.
How to treat exercise addiction:
There are essentially 6 things that one needs to be reminded of, and/or work with a trusted professional (such as myself) to help with exercise addiction:
1. The individual needs to be trained to take full weeks off. That a week without exercise is not going to destroy them. It is not going to make them overweight, and it is not going to cause harm to come to them. This is easier said than done in the beginning, but a wonderful way to start the course of treatment, and for them to realize, when the week is up, that life is ok, no nuclear bomb went off, and they will survive.
2. They absolutely have to start taking rest days. Remember, as I mentioned above, the experts recommend 3-5 days a week of 30-45 minute increment workouts. Not 7.
3. They need to remember to track their workouts. It can become all too easy to forget that you have already worked out for an hour that particular day.
4. To remember, that food is not something to be viewed as the dividend for working out for incessant hours in a day. Food is designed to nourish our bodies. The person needs to remember to eat to live.. not live to eat.
5. Remind themselves of the actual reason for exercising. Exercise is truly designed to help us feel good, and for optimal health, but it is not, nor is anything-designed to be continuous for so long, that it becomes a constant ‘have to’, and that we lose control over our choices for.
6. Talk with someone that exercises on a normal basis. Establish a level of accountability there, so that, that person can tell you what not necessarily you want to hear, but what you need to hear.
For more information about this addiction, please see the following article: