Exercise should be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise helps you to control your weight and reduce your risk of developing certain diseases and chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It helps improve your mood, gives you energy, helps you sleep and just makes you feel good in general. One of the reasons exercise boosts your mood is that it stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that create a pleasurable sensation. These include endorphins, as well as dopamine, the same chemical released by addictive drugs. Exercise can become an addictive behavior. Just because you enjoy working out, or maybe even consider it one of your most important hobbies, does not mean that you have developed an addiction. As with many activities, there is a line that can be drawn between a healthful endeavor and a problematic addiction. How do you know if you have met or crossed that line? Here are some signs:
- You plan most days around your exercise. It’s fine if working out is an important part of most days, or even every day. It isn’t a problem if you look forward to your workout every day. You begin to show signs of addictive behavior, however, if your other plans always revolve around your exercise regimen.
- Everything takes a back seat to your exercise. When your exercising gets in the way of relationships, keeps you from engaging in other activities you used to enjoy, or stops you from meeting your usual responsibilities, you have a problem with working out.
- You feel bad when you can’t work out. This is called withdrawal and it is something that all addicts experience. If you can’t get to the gym, do you start to feel anxious, crabby, or irritable? Do your muscles start to tense up and do you have trouble getting to sleep? It’s normal to feel a little bit of withdrawal from exercise if you are sidelined for a period of time. But if the symptoms are so bad that you work out just to soothe them, you have an addiction.
- You try to set limits on your workout time, but can’t stick to them. If you have recognized that you probably spend too much time at the gym or out running, you may have decided to slow down. If you find that you just can’t force yourself to stop or cut back on time spent exercising, you are exhibiting a classic sign of addiction.
- You keep working out in spite of the problems it causes. Another classic sign of any type of addiction is called continuance. You see the problem that excessive working out is causing in your life, yet you keep doing it. Maybe your boyfriend is getting tired of how much time you spend at the gym and is threatening to break up with you. Maybe you have an injury and your doctor has told you to rest for a few weeks. If you still don’t change your habits in spite of these kinds of instances, you have a problem.
Exercise addiction is a real and a serious phenomenon. Both men and women are vulnerable to it, but it often coincides with an eating disorder or stems from dieting and a desire to lose weight. Monitor your exercise regimen and ask those around you to tell you if they think you are working out too much or if your exercising seems to be negatively impacting your life. Exercise is a wonderful activity, and one that most people don’t engage in often enough. But you can go too far. Maintain a healthy exercise schedule and it will benefit your life and your health.