Addiction To Exercise
Addiction To Exercise
Marc Kern (Addiction Expert, Director of Addiction Alternatives) gives expert video advice on: What is "exercise addiction"? and more...
What is "exercise addiction"?
Exercise addiction, like other behavioral addiction is again just one manifestation of a methodology that the individual has learned that will bring about a positive effective feeling state when they engage in it. For example, I work with what are called "obligatory runners" and these are people who need to run every day, or at least they feel that they need to run each day or they get depressed. At some earlier stage in their life, they found that running relieved their depression and so they continue to run to mitigate their depression, but over time it no longer just did that - now if they don't run, they will actually bring about a depression, they actually change their neurochemistry, their biochemical interaction with the world, and now must engage in this activity.
Are men and women equally prone to exercise addiction?
I think in our culture men and women are equally prone to exercise addiction. It probably is about the same motive, about vanity, and health and things like that, and putting yourself in the right situation to get the most positive reinforcement from the involvement.
Is exercise addiction different from the compulsive exercise practiced by some anorexics and bulimics?
My hunch would be that there is a parallel between exercise addiction and how an anorexic compulsively works out. There may be differing internal motivation, but there is something very similar in terms of mood regulation, energy regulation, identity, body image that does cross lines in exercise addiction and anorexia.
Can exercise addiction be a bad thing?
Generally speaking, being in good shape is not a bad thing. But the problem is that a true exercise addiction will go well beyond being in good shape. They will exercise to the degree, for example, they will run until they damage their knees and they're going in for multiple surgeries. They will damage their arms and their shoulders because they feel a need to continue to involve themselves in exercise beyond their body's capability. It is not about being in good shape at all. It's about keeping at bay certain feeling states they don't want to experience, and keeping that addiction or that momentum of feeling good via this method
Why is working out so attractive to the exercise addict?
Exercise has come to be associated with a method, a ritual, in which the individual can bring about a way of feeling good about themselves, be optimistic, coping with the world, keeping at bay certain thoughts and memories, and it's a place of reward, at least at the beginnings of their involvement. Over time, the positives are not so apparent, even though the exerciser anticipates it. Over time, the focus becomes less on the positive effects and further awareness of the damage they're actually causing their body.
What can an exercise addict do to return to a healthy routine?
I think the first position that an exercise addict needs to take is to stand outside, develop a third eye, observe what they're doing. Take pauses, don't necessarily stop for a long time, but take pauses away from the involvement and take the feeling states that you have. You probably won't feel as good as you might after exercising or something like that. Don't run away from those feelings, try to take and bring them closer to you. These are feelings that do lie underneath the exercise, there are things you ultimately need other ways of coping with. As you slowly taper down the amount you exericse, take those pauses, take those abstinence phases if you want to call it that, and learn from them, and take the feelings that come and the thoughts that come outside of the exercise domain and into a therapist's office or a self-help group or some other place to learn to focus those feelings and thoughts.