It can be argued that being ‘hooked on’ exercise is a positive form of addiction that confers many health benefits. Runners in particular may become addicted to the endorphin rush (see pp.24-5) that accompanies exercise. However, psychological addiction to exercise has negative consequences. Compulsive exercisers may feel intensely guilty, anxious and self-critical if they neglect their routine. They may deprioritize other aspects of life, such as family or social responsibilities, in favour of exercise and they may continue to exercise even when it is not appropriate to do so (when they have an injury, for example).
Research has demonstrated that an addiction to exercise is sometimes associated with other psychological problems, including eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. People with eating disorders have a distorted body image and they tend to exercise at an inappropriately intense level in order to sustain a low body weight.
Exercise withdrawal symptoms (exercise addiction symptoms), such as moodiness and anxiety, should be treated as seriously as any other type of addiction. If exercise is compulsive, a doctor may recommend psychological help to ascertain the underlying cause.
It is common for over-training to occur when an individual is preparing for or participating in an event such as a marathon. The individual’s desire to be competitive may drive her to neglect the need for adequate rest between training sessions. She may also ignore signs of over-exercise, such as frequent injuries and infections, in order to keep to her training schedule.
THE CAUSES OF OVER-EXERCISE
A number of factors may come into play when people over-exercise. These vary in different individuals, but tend to include:
• Impatience to become fit, lose weight, tone muscle.
• A belief that it is necessary to exercise strenuously to gain benefits.
• The desire to succeed in or win a competitive event (such as a marathon, for example).
• Physical addiction to the ‘high’ caused by increased endorphins in the bloodstream.
• Psychological addiction due to feelings of guilt if the exercise routine is neglected, or a distorted body image associated with an eating disorder.