Exercise Addiction

Crossfit, yoga, hot yoga, triathlon training, weight lifting, marathon running, American Ninja…America has an obsession with fitness. “Strong is the new sexy” is a popular motto. Lean is the new big and healthy is the new norm. Rather than being a simple part of nutritional guidelines, health and exercise have become a cultural phenomenon. On a growing basis, people are becoming defined in part by what they do for their body as opposed to who they are as a person. “What you do for exercise” is as important as what God you believe in and whether you are a cat or dog person.

There’s nothing wrong with exercise. Most doctors recommend getting regular exercise. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention write out a healthy formula as follows for adults: 150 minutes of moderate aerobics per week, 75 minutes of intense aerobics per week, and strengthening/muscle conditioning twice per week. Exercise has a wealth of health benefits. Not only is exercise proven to increase longevity, reduce stress, alleviate symptoms of depression, improve heart condition as to prevent heart disease, but exercise produces endorphins. Endorphins are the ‘runners high’ hormone many experience from exercise. By definition, endorphins are “peptides that activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.” Exercise encourages the body’s naturally produced opiate receptors, which operate to inhibit pain, thereby producing the analgesic effect. Opiate receptors are also activated by opiate drugs like prescription painkillers and heroin. That analgesic effect is addicting. Exercise is not a drug, but it can be as addicting as one.

What causes exercise addiction?

Endorphins are one part of the process in exercise addiction. Like any addiction, however, the problem is usually beyond the solution. Endorphins and the results produced by exercising are solutions to a deeper problem. One such problem might be body dysmorphic disorder, or issues with body image. Another might be addiction swapping, when in early recovery someone replaces one high with another. Based in compulsion, the experience of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins released by exercise are enough to sustain the absence of someone’s drug of choice.

Signs of Exercise Addiction

Trying to compulsively control one’s appearance, how they feel, or the world around them results in obsession. Spending more than one to two hours at the gym per day is a sign of compulsive exercise addiction. Social isolation, and drastic drop in health are other signs. Demonstrations of irritability or symptoms of withdrawal without exercise can also indicate an addiction has formed.

Refuge Recovery offers nutrition and exercise programs as part of our treatment programs. Taking care of body is equally important as mind and spirit. Our programs combine critical attention paid to each area. Call us today for more information 323-207-0276.

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