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How to Spot an Unhealthy Exercise Addiction

What are endorphins?

It’s very common for most addicts early in recovery to replace their substance abuse addiction with intense exercise. Although we whole heartedly support a rigorous exercise routine to increase blood flow, improve muscle mass, and improve overall cardiovascular health, we encourage anyone new to exercise, especially early in recovery, to be aware of replacing one rush with another and learn how to spot an unhealthy exercise addiction and what to do about it.

Research shows that replacing one rush with another has a high tendency to lead back to a relapse of the originating abused substance.

Endorphins are neurotransmitters or chemicals in the brain that lead to the conduction of electrical signals in the nervous system. There are 20 different types of endorphins. We naturally release endorphins when we are stressed, in pain or when we feel happy.

Why are endorphins important?
Endorphins are responsible for:

Controlling appetite.
Feeling euphoria and contentment, including the warm happy feelings when we fall in love.
Releasing sex hormones.
Blunting and numbing pain.
¥Boosting our immune system.

Interestingly, our mood is to a large extent, controlled by endorphins. When we consistently expose ourselves to things that make us happy, our brain constantly releases endorphins and we experience a natural mood elevation. Moreover, two people will not release the same amount of endorphins to a stimuli. This is why some people can eat a lot of chilli peppers and not feel a burning sensation, while others cannot even eat a drop of pepper.

What happens when don’t have enough endorphins?
Unfortunately, sometimes our bodies do not produce enough endorphins. This may occur as a result of emotional pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, physical injury, trauma, financial stress, abusive relationships, loss of loved ones, or when we are deeply hurt or stressed. Lack or reduced levels of endorphins can lead to:

Crying easily.
Feeling sad without a reason.
Being called “too sensitive”.
Eating carbohydrates.
Taking pain medications or any medication to blunt pain.
Pretending to be happy or putting up a “front”.
Taking up extreme sport or risky behavior, just to elicit the release of endorphins.

The troubling of not having enough endorphins is that people begin to engage in activity that releases an endorphin rush. Such activities include intense exertion, drug and substance use, gambling, watching scary movies, violence, or extreme thrill-seeking behavior. The endorphin rush releases large amounts of endorphin, which has the drawback of further depleting endorphin stores. As a result, people suffer from the highs and lows of endorphins. Secondly, these are unhealthy behaviors that can trigger the development of addictions. In fact, beta-endorphins are a type of endorphin that has been associated with addictions, such as alcoholism, etc.

How are endorphins and exercise related?
As discussed above, intense physical exertion can result in an endorphin addiction. At this point, you’re probably confused because we have all heard about the positive and essential attributes of staying active.

How can exercise be bad for you?!

The answer is that when women perform intense exertion or strenuous exercise, they produce large amounts of endorphins that blunt muscle and body pain from the exertion. In addition, the endorphin surge provides a soothing sensation, which is actually quite similar to what morphine and opium users experience. As a result, an exercise addiction begins to set in.

“Runner’s high” is a commonly used term to describe an endorphin rush in response to intense exertion. During runner’s high, women will workout way past their intensity threshold, resulting in the release of massive amounts of endorphins. The body reacts in this way to counteract pain and blunt the perception of pain.

What is an exercise addiction?
Exercise addiction refers to a constant obsession with exercise. Studies show that exercise addiction is more likely to occur in women who have previously been diagnosed with eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa. An exercise addiction should not be taken lightly since sufferers cannot stop exercising, even when they want to stop or when the exertion is actually physically harming them.

What are the signs and symptoms of an exercise addiction?
The signs and symptoms of an exercise addiction include:

A sensation of a “high” or “buzz” after exercising.
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when exertion is not performed.
An uncontrollable need to constantly exert.
Missing work, school or social engagements to allocate more time towards exercise.
Exercising for more than two hours per day on a repetitive basis.
Muscle wasting including torn ligaments, muscle sprains, muscle strain and torn muscles
Excessive exertion can lead to injuries, exhaustion, depression and suicide.

How is an exercise addiction diagnosed?
Exercise addiction is difficult to diagnose. If you feel that there is something wrong about how often you feel you need to exert, then you do need to consult with your doctor. Your doctor may ask you to keep a journal to log the number of hours that you spend exercising on a daily basis. A diagnosis may also be made if you visit your doctor while suffering from exercise-related injuries, exhaustion or suicidal thoughts or attempts.

How is an exercise addiction treated?
Currently, there are no prescription drug options available to treat an exercise addiction. Rather, treatment involves teaching women how to control their addiction. If exercise addiction occurs in someone who also has anorexia nervosa or bulimia, then there are therapy options available to improve self-image.

To gain assistance, support during the recovery process, then reach out to local support groups and addiction centres. During this time, family, friends and loved ones can also be a source of comfort and support in overcoming an exercise addiction.

What are some activities that women can participate in to control their exercise addiction?
Women can engage in activities that dissuade from constantly having to think about physical exercise. Some activities include:

Knitting and sewing.
Painting
Meditating
Reading
Cooking
Writing

How can you prevent an exercise addiction?
You can prevent forming an exercise addiction by regulating how frequently you visit the gym. You can also limit your workout time and allow your body to rest and recover following exertion. Therefore, you should take a break now and again. Finding a balance is important.

For the record, we love exercise and all of the health benefits it has to offer. I am an active member of my local Cross Fit gym but i’m also a recovering addict and an addiction researcher and my warning is to be cautious.

As addicts we have a tendency to overdo things, even exercise and in my experience, overdoing things can lead to relapse, so have fun, get fit, but be careful.

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