I guess the saying is true – too much of a good thing can be a bad thing! Of course, this flies in the face of the widely believed myth that no amount of exercise can be detrimental to your health. With the rise of 24-hour gyms, fitness enthusiasts are empowered to constantly push their limits, obsessively chasing their ideal physiques while overlooking the possibility that they may have traded their life’s ills for something just as bad – exercise addiction.
Exercise is a wonderful combatant against depression as it releases endorphins and serotonin. However, too much of a good thing can lead to this biological pendulum swinging the other way. Signs of exercise addiction may include irritability and ironically, depression.
How prevalent is it?
A Psychology Today study estimates that three per cent of Britons are exercise addicts while a US study estimates three-to-five per cent of their population is addicted. Meanwhile, with Australia's outdoor and active-living lifestyle, the figure could potentially be higher.
Why is it dangerous?
Lofty aspirations are one thing, but unhealthy obsession is another. Exercise addicts typically chase a heavily stylised ideal, without considering the reality behind it. These people are not professional athletes, yet adopt the mentality of “training like the best” (to an unhealthy extent) in their pursuit to attain fulfilment. Some people workout out nearly all day every day, neglecting other aspects of their life.
Exercise addiction can occur in tandem with and even lead to body image disorders. The notion of never being “good enough” and wanting more is usually what drives an addict to push themselves even harder. Self-criticism is also a heavily used tool, similar to how people with distorted perceptions of their physique often see themselves as either too skinny or fat. Left unchecked, these psychological barriers will only become harder to dismantle as time passes and will begin to manifest physical symptoms.
Like any psychosocial malady, combating exercise addiction benefits from a step-by-step process designed to wean one off such patterns of destructive behaviour.
- Develop a support system with your social circle. Talk to your partner, family and friends and be truthful with them.
- Cancel your membership and find one with regular hours. If you're attending a 24-hour gym. Limit the time you can access the gym.
- Follow an exercise programme. Keep track of your goals and find joys in progressively reaching your goals.
- Find other outlets to alleviate stress. While exercise is a great stress-buster cooking, music, socialising and other hobbies can give you the same high.
Moderation is an oft repeated word in the health and wellness industry, but it bears repeating, especially considering that we’re so susceptible to the idea of playing “catch up” in order to make up for all the years of inactivity. Dedicate sufficient time towards training, but don’t forget that you still have a life to live outside all of that!