Monash University CC News

Exercise Addiction

By Claire Rocastle

Sport and exercise in general, despite being beneficial for our overall mental and physical health, can become addictive. A combination of the endorphins, positive physical changes and the progress that exercise can bring can cause an individual to form a compulsion for it, feeling anxiety when exercise isn’t performed. However, another reason exercise can become addictive is competition. In competitive sports, winning can also become addictive and a similar theory can be applied when it comes to exercise. Making progress, lifting heavier and running further than anyone else – including yourself previously - can be an addictive feeling and become an obsession, rather than healthy habit.

Becoming addicted to competitive exercise can be compared to gambling addiction. Those who are addicted to gambling are constantly chasing their next win, ignoring the losses and striving for the glory to which they’ve become addicted. The compulsion to win – to achieve that high – is what keeps them going, forces them to gamble away money they no longer have and destroy existing relationships.

While being addicted to exercise may harm your body - the strain constant exercising can put on the body results in injuries, exhaustion and dehydration – the toll addiction to competition can take on the mind is huge. Having an addiction means it takes over your life, even your thoughts; you become obsessed with chasing progress, working out and competing. You feel anxious and stressed when you can’t fulfill your compulsive; your self-esteem may begin to plummet – precisely the opposite of what your aim is – and your obsession may occupy your thoughts to the point of insomnia. The stress of being obsessed with exercising and competition can result in depression and other mental disorders, such as anxiety, causing you to turn to exercise even more to lift your mood, albeit temporarily.

Addiction to exercise is notoriously hard to treat because, not only is exercise generally a positive activity and essential as part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s not an addiction to a substance. Councelling can be affective in that it encourages the individual to realise why exercise and competition is so important to them. You also be encouraged to refrain from taking part in exercise or competition for a while until the compulsion is under control. It’s then sensible to enforce an exercise limit so that the need to overexercise doesn’t reoccur. This may mean only taking part in exercise which can be deemed as competitive once a week.