One of the reasons many people exercise regularly is for the feelings of euphoria that follows a workout. There are even some people who feel like they would suffer serious physical and mental consequences when they miss a workout. This brings light to the question if exercise is a strong enough drug that can become addictive. Is it really possible to suffer from withdrawals symptoms when a person stops exercising completely?
The Truth about Exercise Addiction
If you ask any sports psychologist if addiction to exercise is real, many will say yes. However, it only affects a small percentage of regular exercisers. It particularly affects those who usually push too hard and regularly try to surpass their limits. These people even exercise hard when they are injured or physically/mentally exhausted. In some cases, the exercise gets in the way of their work, social life and relationships with other people. Unless your exercise program is having severe consequences to your health, well-being and work then you don’t really have an exercise addiction problem.
There are people who exercise with passion but do so responsibly. These people are not addicted and they are actually what sports scientists call “committed exercisers”. Most people feel guilty when they miss a workout or notice negative changes in their body like tighter joints when they stop exercising. For these people, exercise is a priority and not an addiction. Of course, you have to determine how much exercise is too much.
There are many reasons people start exercising and get hooked in a healthy way. During periods of exercise, endorphins flood the brain which can induce an emotional response like feelings of accomplishment and euphoria depending on the type and intensity of physical activity. Group exercise can also provide social support which is very important for some people. Some people regularly exercise for health reasons like to reduce risk of stroke or heart disease. There are also people who exercise purely to improve* or maintain their appearance.
Are You Exercising Too Much?
Although it is actually very rare for someone to exercise too much, if you regularly exercise two or even three times daily then it is possible that you are exercising too much. According to Jodi Rubin who is a psychotherapist in New York City, you should ask yourself how you feel if you skip the second or third exercise session of the day or take a couple of days off from exercise. If it makes you feel guilty, anxious, depressed or bad about yourself then try to make up for the missed session/s the next few days, then this is a sign that there may be a problem. If ever you dread exercise but still push yourself hard and long, you may need to re-evaluate your exercise routine.
How to Prevent Over Exercising?
Here are some simple tips you can avoid exercising too much or prevent exercise addiction:
- Try Different Workouts
Doing two similar workouts or exercising for a very long period puts the body in a stressed state which can have various negative consequences. If you decide to double up on your workout, choose a different type of workout like a strength class for the first one and cardiovascular class for the second. You can also mix your routine up with other workouts like boot camp, yoga, boxing and cross fit.
- Create A Rest Day Each Week
Rest is very important when it comes to fitness according to Marci Goolsby, MD who is a physician in the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Women’s Sports Medicine Center. It wears down the body bringing the need for recovery. Take a day off from working out every two to three days. You can also exercise daily for 5 days then take 2 days off.
- Make Sure You Are Fuelled Properly
You need to be eating enough calories if you want to be able to exercise optimally. Dr. Goolsby stresses the importance of increasing caloric intake when the physical activity level is increased. Not consuming enough calories can weaken the bones and increase the risk for stress fractures.
- Rest When You Feel Pain or When You’re Exhausted?
It is very important to listen to your body. Pain is a sign that you should take it easy or rest. It is an indication that there is something wrong. Also, exhaustion causes bad form which makes you more prone to injury. If you feel tired all the time, you may need to take a few days off from exercising. You can still burn calories by performing light exercises like walking after lunch or dinner.
Exercise addiction is real, but it is very rare. Unless your exercise program is causing severe problems in your work, social or family life then it is not something you need to address. However, if your body and psychological state are being affected by your exercise program, then you may need professional intervention.