While exercise is one of the healthiest, most frequently encouraged activities we can take up, it can also be dangerously addictive. People who rely on exercise to cope with destructive eating habits or stress are sometimes labelled as exercise addicts. The reliance on exercise eventually stresses the body to harmful levels and can cause individuals to suffer mood swings and anxiety when they are unable to exercise. For some people, exercise addiction is linked to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. People with these eating disorders often exercise to become dangerously thin or with the aim of compensating for their binge eating. Think you may be an exercise addict? Ask yourself the following questions and, if you answer yes to one or more, consider seeking therapy.
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About Exercise Addiction
Exercise addiction is behavioural in nature - that is, it isn't about chemical substances so much as lifestyle habits. That being said, exercise addiction does have a chemical component. When you work out, your body releases endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel good. Exercise also alters dopamine levels in the brain, causing feelings of pleasure and well being. The importance of these chemical elements in exercise and exercise addiction is controversial. That being said, the effects of exercise addiction on mood and behaviour are similar to those found in drug addiction cases. People who are addicted to exercise become deeply anxious when they are prevented from working out. The inability to exercise causes the sensation of losing control or will power. This is particularly the case for women and men displaying signs of disordered eating. Unable to cope with calories consumed through exercise, the person becomes stressed, anxious, or depressed.
Exercise addiction has negative ramifications outside mental health. Working out puts a strain on the muscles and joints. Most people rest their bodies after exercise and are thus able to recover properly. Over-exercising, however, refers to a failure to maintain a sustainable physical workload. Without sufficient rest, the body is incapable of repairing itself after workouts. Exercise addicts are more likely to experience athletic injuries including strained and torn muscles, tendonitis, ruptured discs, and other overuse conditions. Injured, the person is no longer able to work out, which causes him or her to experience the mental anxieties described above.
Treatment of Exercise Addiction
For most people, exercise is a healthy and productive way to cope with stress and to maintain the body's appearance and well-being. If, however, you are exercising to point of inducing anxiety and physical harm, you may wish to consider treatment. There are no medications to help with this behavioural addiction. Most commonly, people with unhealthy exercise reliance undergo psychotherapy to alter their perceptions of health, wellness, and body image. Exposure and response methods of treatment, also used for substance addictions, re-train people to react to stressful conditions in a healthy manner. If the exercise addiction exists in conjunction with an eating disorder, a nutritionist can be involved to educate the individual about healthy eating and lifestyle choices. These types of treatments can be minimal, involving only a few sessions, or on-going for months or even years.
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