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From Helpful to Harmful

posted Jan 8, 2015, 9:59 AM by Kialynne Bland   [ updated Jan 8, 2015, 10:01 AM ]
KiaLynne Bland

New Year’s is not only a start to a refreshing year, but a start to better yourself, your life, and your attitude. Millions decide to fulfill this destination by creating resolutions, many of which are to get in shape and start exercising. While jogging, lunging, and lifting weights regularly definitely has its pros, a portion of gym goers take it to the extreme and develop what is known as the behavioral addiction called exercise addiction.


According to about.com, 8 percent fit the criteria for exercise addiction. While the percentage isn’t high and doesn’t seem to affect much of the U.S. population, it can develop into a serious addiction and issue if not treated.


The addiction starts with those who have a desire to become physically fit, are pressured into losing weight or staying in shape, or have a body image disorder. Exercise addiction is also associated with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, as people with a history of eating disorders are more likely to experience the addiction.


Those who choose to exercise realize they’re less stressed, in a better mood, their physical appearance has improved, and they have a sense of control and an escape route, thanks to working out --- and they love it. "Exercise is like an addiction," says Spanish actress and model, Elsa Pataky. "Once you're in it, you feel like your body needs it."


Image courtesy of: pinterest.com (fair use)


Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine, which are the same neurotransmitters that people who have a drug addiction give off. When an exercise addict stops their physical activity, the neurotransmitters fade away and they feel the need to supply their chemical release once more, as the high rush and feeling of accomplishment has worn off.


“It’s when exercise becomes all consuming --- when you start losing friends, forgoing social activities or reneging work opportunities --- that your workout schedule becomes cause for concern,” explains Heather Hausenblas, exercise psychologist. Because of yearning that “runner’s high” and feeling of contentment, exercise addicts often miss out on social events and cause family conflicts due to their addiction. Many addicts feel guilty when they miss a workout, so they stick to it as much as possible, even if they’re sick.


Symptoms of the addiction are feelings of withdrawal and anxiety when not exercising, or realizing they’ve spent more time exercising than originally planned. Many feel uncontrollable urges to workout and are positive that staying fit is the most important thing in their lives. Some also face fatigue or muscle pains as a result of over-exercising.


    Luckily, exercise addiction can be prevented and treated. To avoid getting trapped in this time consuming addiction, limit yourself to the time you spend working out and in the gym. Rest throughout the week and set reachable goals for yourself; not risky or challenging ones. Focus on other hobbies besides exercising to keep your mind off the stress of the world. Talking to a doctor or a mental health care professional, preferably specializing in harm reduction, is also recommended as stated by greatist.com. From there, they can prescribe medications and offer treatment options to start a path of recovery.
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