Exercise can be as addictive as heroin

This was a very brief article about a report from neuroscientists at Boston University. The researchers found that exercise ‘junkies’ experienced similar extreme withdrawal symptoms to drug addicts when unable to have their fix. The researchers also noticed that, just as ‘soft’ drugs can lead to hard drugs, so going to the gym can turn into an obsession.

I have observed this in rather more people than I would like to have done. Quite often people with eating disorders ‘overcome’ anorexia or bulimia, only to replace this compulsion with a substitute – exercise. I also see people continuing to exercise when they are ill or have a muscle strain and it is just not healthy.

Addiction is defined in Why do you overeat? and Stop Counting Calories – as having 4 stages:
1)    We start with an uncontrollable craving.
2)    We then need more and more of the offending substance in order to get the same ‘high’.
3)    We develop physical and/or psychological dependence.
4)    We suffer from the adverse effects.

I more often use this in the context of food, but, consider the woman featured in the Mail article 24.09.09 – Janice Utley. Janice wrote the article in the first person – good on her for sharing this. Janice had been out for a meal with some friends and she wrote “I felt restless, obsessing about the fact that I hadn’t done enough exercise that day” (That’s step 1). She ran for over an hour when she got home after midnight. She continues “every day I must jog, weight train or swim for several hours. Exercise gives me such a high…” (That’s step 2). “Any time I haven’t been able to exercise I’ve felt edgy and depressed and convinced that there is a visible difference in my body.” (That’s step 3). As for Step 4 – she had a breast cancer scare, which was actually a lump of overworked muscle near the breast and her marriage broke down. “I tell myself we grew apart, but I know my exercise obsession didn’t help.”

Do something you enjoy – dance, walk the dog, go window shopping – but don’t become an exercise junkie! It’s SO not attractive or healthy.

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