Monday, April 9, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing: Exercise Addiction

By Claudia L. Reardon, M.D.

We all know it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. But can that apply to exercise too? Many people struggle to exercise even a small amount, so it might be hard to imagine that "exercise addiction" could be a problem. However, research shows that it can be, with one report estimating that 3% of the population could be addicted to exercise.

Some researchers suggest the following symptoms for "exercise addiction." These are some of the same symptoms of other addictions like alcoholism.

·    Tolerance: increasing the amount of exercise in order to feel the desired effect, be it a “buzz”  or sense of accomplishment.
·    Withdrawal: in the absence of exercise, experiencing negative effects such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and sleep problems.
·    Lack of control: unsuccessfully attempting to reduce exercise amount or to stop exercising for a certain period of time.
·    Intention effects: unable to stick to one’s intended routine as evidenced by exceeding the amount of time devoted to exercise or consistently going beyond the intended amount.
·    Time: a great deal of time is spent preparing for, engaging in, and recovering from exercise.
·    Reduction in other activities: as a direct result of exercise, social, occupational, and/or recreational activities occur less often or are stopped.
·    Continuance: continuing to exercise despite knowing that this activity is creating or worsening physical, psychological, and/or relationship problems.
·    Behaviors and conditions that often occur together with "exercise addiction" are eating disorders, excessive use of substances such as caffeine to improve athletic performance, and "work addiction."

It's important to point out that not all people who exercise at an intense level have an addiction. For example, competitive athletes often need to spend significant time and energy to their sports. Also, many people may be highly committed to their exercise routines without experiencing the negative effects that go along with an addiction. 

Usually, exercise is a very healthy and positive behavior, and most people benefit from a regular exercise schedule. However, if you think you or someone close to you may be suffering from "exercise addiction," you should seek help from a doctor. Cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to bring a patient back to a normal exercise schedule.

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