Too Much of a Good Thing

Understanding when you may be addicted to exercise.

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? When it comes to exercise, the answer is yes. It may seem strange, but it’s true.

Exercise is essential to your overall well-being. And everyone knows regular exercise gives you multiple health benefits from heart disease and diabetes prevention to lowered high blood pressure to an improved mood and increased energy levels. While many people don’t get the recommended amount of exercise (30 minutes a day most days of the week), there is a minority of athletes who become compulsive exercisers. These people are addicted to exercise and dependant on exercise for their sense of well-being.

Up to 10 percent of body builders and performance runners fall into this category. They believe that the more exercise you do, the healthier you become. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Could you be addicted to exercise? What are the signs and what are the risks of such behavior? How do you overcome such an addiction?

Recognizing Addiction

A person addicted to exercise has lost perspective on what the role of healthy exercise should be in life. It doesn’t necessarily mean an addicted person exercises too much. This is proven by the fact that athletes training for competition can have a healthy view of exercise while exercising hours a day.

However, an exercise addict will exercise even when he or she know it’s no longer doing their body good. These addicts believe more is always better, no matter what. Anything – family, friends, or other activities – that gets in the way of working out is resented. Injury, fatigue, or sickness rarely stops an exercise addict. Miss a workout? An exercise addict will experience feelings of withdrawal and may become depressed or irritable.

Excessive exercise seems to attract people who feel a need for control over life and are perfectionists or high achievers. Often, anorexic women (women who have an unrealistic view of their body fat and feel the need to over-exercise in order to stay thin and make up for the food they ate) or men who body build excessively (men who have an unrealistic view of their body and want more and more muscle to feel confident) fall into this category.

Consequences of Addiction

Athletes such as runners often experience a “runner’s high,” a sense of elation from the hormones released during exercise. But eventually, the adrenal glands that secrete these hormones wear out and no longer create the same feeling. What once brought gratification has now brought pain and addiction.

Too much exercise won’t improve a person’s life. It can cause lasting injuries, exhaustion, depression, and even suicide. An addiction to exercise can also lead to relationship problems. Your friends and family will feel second best compared to exercise.

Get Help

If this description fits you, it’s time to get help. Find a counselor you trust and discuss your possible addiction to exercise. Your therapist will help you to see the problem and get to the root of the issue (control, low self-esteem, perfection, anger, etc.). An addict’s focus will need to shift from thinking “quantity” of exercise to “quality” of exercise.

Creating an exercise schedule and setting realistic goals while working with an exercise trainer is a good place to start. That way you’re sure to keep your compulsion under control and get enough rest in between set times of exercise. If you find you have extra time on your hands, don’t try to slip in a workout or two. Instead, find a new hobby, rekindle your love of an old hobby, or spend more time with your loved ones.

Knowing Yourself.

If you barely get much exercise in each day, you’re probably not an addict. So remember – exercise is a good thing that you may need to get more of. But if you fall into the category of people who have become dependant on exercise for your well-being and it has become more important to you than family, friends, your job, or your own health, don’t ignore your addiction. With the right help, you can get your exercise back under control, contributing to your overall good health.

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