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Can people be addicted to exercise?

Workout office gym
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It is important to exercise to lead a healthy life. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that every adult engages in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week and two days of muscle strength training. اضافة اعلان

While physical activity has a plethora of health benefits that can reduce the risk of many diseases and conditions, too much of any one thing can have negative consequences; and physical activity is no exception.

Why exercise can be addictive Certain substances like nicotine, alcohol, and narcotics are addictive due to the chemicals they contain, which increase naturally occurring chemicals known as neurotransmitters in our brains. These neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, help give us feelings of pleasure, regulate mood, and reduce feelings of pain.
Exercise addiction is a behavioral addiction or excessive behavior that results in adverse consequences and develops in four phases, as of current understanding.
These chemicals are already naturally produced in the body and engaging in certain activities that increase the release of neurotransmitters can produce a euphoric effect similar to that of drugs. As a result, we can become addicted to those activities much like we would substances. And not engaging in these activities once addicted can produce withdrawal symptoms.

Exercise naturally increases these neurotransmitters, and amongst runners, that felt increase is often referred to as “runner’s high”. Beyond the chemical component, psychological and behavioral factors also play a role in exercise addiction.

As bodies and physiques change to be seen as more acceptable or desirable by society, people become obsessed with their appearance and exercise becomes a compulsion to maintain their figure.

Defining exercise addiction
An individual who frequently and regularly goes to the gym or exercises is not necessarily considered an addict. In fact, defining and creating a proper diagnosis for exercise addiction is difficult.

As of yet, the American Psychiatric Association does not recognize exercise addiction as a diagnosable condition. In truth, excessive exercise is not inherently wrong; instead, the mental attitude and complications associated with exercise are what become problematic.

Exercise addiction is a behavioral addiction or excessive behavior that results in adverse consequences and develops in four phases, as of current understanding.

• Phase 1: Recreational phase

Exercise in this phase is motivated either to improve health and fitness or simply for pleasure. Most people fit into this phase, as many generally find working out enjoyable and enjoy improving their overall quality of life without placing immense expectations or pressure on themselves.

In this phase, people can maintain a workout schedule, but there are no negative consequences if a day is skipped.

• Phase 2: At-risk phase

Here, the individual begins to increase the frequency and intensity of their physical activity. The goal is no longer about enjoyment but about relief from stress, dealing with dysphoria, or improving self-esteem.

Most people in this phase use exercise to cope with other issues in their life. Negative consequences have still yet to develop.

• Phase 3: Problematic exercise

Problematic exercise is when negative consequences begin to appear. The workout regimen may become more rigid, and exercise begins to consume most of their daily life.

During workouts, people may become less sociable and exhibit mood swings or irritability if there is a disruption in their schedule.

The need to continue exercise despite injury is prevalent, as people who engage in problematic exercise may workout despite their injury.

• Phase 4: Exercise addiction

At this point, exercise becomes the entire focus of the individual to the point that normal daily function is severely impacted. Disruptions in their workout schedule can cause withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, restlessness, depression, guilt, tension, discomfort, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and headaches.

As a result, the main motivation for exercise becomes avoidance of withdrawal symptoms.

Who is at risk?
Biologically, genetics plays a role in addiction as a whole. Certain genes have been found to contribute to the risk of developing addiction and compulsive behavior.

Psychologically, negative body image and poor self-esteem can greatly increase the risk of becoming addicted to exercise.

Other factors such as juvenile delinquency and poor social conformity may also play a role.

Those with a preexisting psychological condition or disorder are typically at the highest risk. In fact, those who experience exercise addiction often have some other underlying condition. Eating disorders are one of the most common associated disorders with exercise addiction, particularly orthorexia — an unhealthy obsession with nutrition and exercise to the point where the individual adopts strict eating regimens and excludes major food groups.

Body image disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder can also increase the risk of developing exercise addiction. With body dysmorphic disorder, the individual continuously finds flaws in their appearance and adamantly believes they need to get smaller or bigger.

Certain traits such as perfectionism, neuroticism, narcissism, and obsessive-compulsivity can play a significant role in exercise addiction. Similarly, those with an addiction to other substances such as nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, or other drugs are also considered at higher risk.

Complications of exercise addiction
As with any addiction, there are social implications to exercise addiction. As working out consumes an individual’s life, relationships can strain, and well-being can ultimately be negatively impacted.

Those who experience exercise addiction also often develop a superiority complex which can further disrupt social functioning.
Exercise addiction can also worsen preexisting eating and body image disorders or develop them in those who did not have any before.
Physically, excessive exercise can cause serious issues. Rest following exercise or injury cannot be stressed enough, and with exercise addiction, that is usually ignored. Even during regular exercise, the body develops small tears and cracks in the bones, muscles, and joints, which rest can repair and help grow back stronger. However, if the body is not allowed to rest, these tears and cracks will not heal properly, resulting in more severe injuries.

Behavioral aspects should also be taken into consideration as a complication. Bodybuilders, for example, may partake in or abuse certain substances such as creatine supplements, anabolic-androgenic steroids, or vitamins to reach their goal. Abuse or even use of these substances may cause high fat in the blood, cardiovascular complications, liver complications, and even renal injury or failure.

Exercise addiction can also worsen preexisting eating and body image disorders or develop them in those who did not have any before. These conditions on their own are associated with many severe complications on physical and mental health.

Treating exercise addiction
Treating exercise addiction is not as simple as other forms of addiction, such as substance abuse, as it is not uncommon for those with exercise addiction to not see an issue with their lifestyle. And although there are some health benefits associated with their lifestyle, the consequences outweigh them.

The first step is admitting there is an issue and identifying the adverse effects of their lifestyle. This can be accomplished through the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing.

Practicing self-control, switching regimens to more moderate intensity, and allowing more time for rest is also essential.


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