Are you exercise addicted? We know that exercising is a great stress reliever, and helps with emotional issues. But what if the issue is exercise? Do you exercise to live better, or do you live to exercise? An exercise addict doesn’t set out to become obsessive, it starts out innocent. The desire to get in shape morphs into this exercise monster obsession.
I am an exercise addict, so I speak from experience. It started out quite innocently actually. I’ve always been interested in fitness, even as a child I would exercise with my mom to the Jack Lalayne show. In fact, at five years old, I had a crush on Jack, and I didn’t want to disappoint him as he forced me and my mom to vigorously exercise until the end of the show.
I never overcame my Jack “habit,” and exercise became a daily ritual that if I did it, I had a successful day, and if I didn’t, I considered my day unsuccessful. My self-worth, and self-esteem was centered around whether I accomplished my exercise goals. If I could both exercise and avoid the Twinkies, I had a super special day.
I went on to get my certificate in fitness and nutrition, but I secretly (don’t tell anyone) only cared, at that time, about the exercise part. I then was able to teach a few aerobics classes, and pretend like I knew something. I could then teach other women to be exercise addicts too. You know, pass on the philosophy that if you didn’t exercise today, you are a failure at life.
The American Psychiatric Association hasn’t officially classified exercise dependency as a clinical disorder, however, the mental and physical complications of the condition are recognized across the board by practitioners. They know that over-exercise causes injury, osteoporosis , hormonal imbalance, loss of a social life and a decline in work performance.
A study documented in the Journal Eating Behaviors found that more than one-third out of hundreds of college students tested, displayed signs of compulsive exercising. Some of the symptoms are:
* Exercising despite having an injury
* Guilty feelings if you miss a work-out
* Nervous that if you “take time” off, you will lose all your fitness gains
* Turning down social engagements in favor of having to do your exercises
* Feeling like less than intense exercise isn’t good enough
* Forcing yourself to exercise even when you are sick
The first sign that I was an exercise addict was when I was running and doing aerobics everyday, despite the fact that my shin splints made it extraordinarily painful. I was worried that if I quit exercise I’d balloon to 300 pounds overnight. There were other times that my feet hurt, but I plugged through it anyway. I eventually had to slow down, in order to let my shin splints heal, but it was accompanied by feelings of guilt.
Over-exercise achievers have similarities to the “superwoman syndrome,” you know, the push it to the limit mentality that requires perfection in anything that is undertaken. It is an all-or-nothing scenario, where one has to do it all, or do none of it. Perfectionism is often the key factor in determining who might be vulnerable to exercise addiction.
I have tried over the years to recognize this obsession that I have, and learn to temper it, because really life is about balance in all things. When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis, I was forcing myself to walk on feet that was arthritic, and full of nodules. I had to quit because I couldn’t walk anymore, but it is like mourning for the death of a friend. But so what? I just got a bike, and became obsessed with bike-riding!
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggest that adults get two and a half hours of moderate aerobic exercise weekly, or in other words about 30 minutes a day five times a week. However, the amount of time isn’t so important as the attitude about it, for instance maybe you are obsessed with “having” to work-out until you’ve consumed 500 calories, or you have to count your steps, or a date with a friend is dreaded because it might interfere with your exercise ritual.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which is a powerful rush or “high,” and which stimulates the same region in the brain as opiates. It is this “high” that makes exercisers keep coming back for more. In fact, just like a drug addict, the compulsive exerciser may feel withdrawal symptoms when she doesn’t get her fix.
If you work out hard you will quickly see results, but overloading the body over time will lead to negative consequences. Hard work outs, all the time puts stress on bones, joints and muscles. Other signs of over-training might be:
* Low energy
* Loss of motivation
* Abnormal heart rate (too high while resting, or unable to reach proper levels during workouts)
* Too low body fat
* Cessation of menstruation
Without doubt exercise is number one when it comes to a healthy life-style, but it can become a obsessive/compulsive habit. If you feel the need to work out multiple times a day, many hours at a time, at the highest intensity possible, then you have what mental health professionals call “exercise dependency,” where you consistently feel compelled, and even obligated to work out, no matter what.
Sometimes exercise addiction starts with a particular stressful event that might be happening in your life, like divorce or the death of a loved one, for instance. Pushing yourself through intense work-outs takes your mind off of the stressful event, therefore you can escape the uncomfortable feelings for awhile. So, instead of thinking about the stress, or the sadness you can concentrate how many sit-up’s you are doing, or how long you can stay on the stair-stepper.
Ultimately it is up to you to decide if you are an exercise obsessed addict, and realize when you have developed this dangerous habit. If your behavior is making you more miserable than happy, it is a sign that something needs to be done. There are professionals who can help, if needed. As awareness of exercise addiction increases, health clubs are now educating trainers on how to spot obsessive behavior, so they can address it with their clients.
As for me, I have recognized that I needed to tone it down a little, and I have. I have improved at balancing my exercise life, but I know that it is an emotional battle that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I still carry guilt around with me, and feelings of not having a successful day if I don’t accomplish my exercise goals. The difference now is that I recognize it, so I can face the dilemma head on.
Usually the opposite problem is the case, where Americans have become too sedentary, so the issue of over-exercise compulsion has been swept under the rug. However, this condition exists, its real and there are real people who need help. If you notice that a family member is becoming obsessed with exercise, the time to nip it in the bud is now, seeking professional help if needed.
Goodbye Jack LaLayne, Denise Austin , Jane Fonda and all my video power work-out friends. I’m off to go out to dinner with some friends who I haven’t socialized with in years because I was too obsessed with exercise. Hmmm…dinner, and then maybe…a bike ride?