Exercise addiction – the disorder no one talks about

Exercising can be the best thing that ever happened to your body but just like everything else, it also needs to be practiced in moderation, otherwise the obsession of working out, might turn into an addiction. And just like any other addiction, this one too has its share of problems — the perfect example of how too much of something good, can actually end up being bad for you.

Experts say that there is a negative side to exercising that can insidiously, take over the positive. We give you a low-down on this.

Namrata Purohit, certified pilates and barre instructor says, “Overtraining and overexertion is a common problem these days, especially with most people wanting to get fit fast. What we all must remember is that there is no shortcut to getting fit and healthy, and it is important to treat your body well and give it what it needs but not more than what it needs. Over exercising can end up having negative effects such as muscle fatigue and injuries due to overtraining etc. The key is to listen to your body.”

Exercise addiction is real, and it’s on the rise. And sadly, it has psychological as well as physical consequences.

What is exercise addiction?

When getting into a sweat session is more a compulsion than something you willing want to do, then you could be suffering from exercise addiction. Dr Heather Hausenblas, author of a book about exercise addiction, likens it to drug and alcohol addiction. He has been quoted saying that just like substances ‘hijack’ the brain of individuals hooked on alcohol or drugs, the compulsion to exercise, can hijack the exercise addict’s emotional reward centres.

Over-exercising could lead to psychological problems

We have been brought up on how exercising is unconditionally beneficial not just for your body but for your mind and soul as well. However, a lot of people especially girls, always aspire to be a slimmer version of themselves. And this prompts them to eat less and exercise excessively in order to get picture-perfect bodies like the ones they see on social media. What they do not understand is this obsession with exercising could lead to psychological issues.

Psychologist Dr Keerti Sachdeva explains, “Excessive exercising coupled with a no-oil, low-calorie diet, leads to a deficiency of D3, B12 and thyroxin. Consequently, the person falls into depression. They begin to have negative tendencies. They can neither adjust at home, nor at work. This is the crux of the problem of excessive exercising.”

Substance abuse to reach fitness goals

Young men aged between 18 to 30 years, want to build muscles, and fast. They want a six-pack abdominal, within a few months. Dr Keerti says, “In order to help reach the fitness goals quickly, some trainers advise testosterone and steroids. And this invariably leads to a lot of sexual problems that were not there before. Since they take hormones externally, their natural hormone production in the body stops and there are chances that they become impotent.”

Exercise addiction takes a toll on you

Experts reiterate that anything in excess can never be good. Exercising always helps to eliminate toxins from your body, and gives your skin a healthy glow. However, exercise addiction can lead to dull, tired skin. Dr Keerti explains, “There is no balance in life when you are constantly exercising. The sheen on your face is diminished because of too much exercise and not enough nutrients. The bones become weak and you end up feeling tired and lethargic.”

It ruins your body clock

There are many who are so addicted to exercising that they do not want to miss their schedules on busy week days. Dr Keerti says, “These are the ones who go to those 24-hour gyms post midnight to work out. They shower at 3 and have dinner at 3.30 am. What they do not realise is that it ruins their natural body clock. This leads to toxin formation.”

Over exercising could be a form of escapism

Addiction to food and exercise are both harmful say experts. Senior psychiatrist DrHarish Shetty says, “Those who convert every activity of life into a ritual, may get addicted to exercise. Some facing real life issues block their anxieties and escape by running on the treadmill.
Stressed guys also may feel better during the beginning of their exercise regime and later overdo it for perceived additional benefits. Meticulous, perfectionists tend to measure every calorie lost and every minute spent in their fitness regime and indulge in unhealthy regimes.”

Set realistic goals

When setting goals ensure it is realistic says Namrata. She adds, “Nothing can be achieved over night, so it’s good to make sure you have enough time to achieve a certain fitness goal. Push yourself but do not push beyond a limit. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to listen to your body. Be patient, be consistent, and regular, exercise just enough and eat right! As I keep saying, Train Smart and KISSS: Keep It Safe Simple and Smart.”

The role of social media

The hashtag #fitspo was intended to motivate people to fitness but in many cases it is actually encouraging compulsive exercise behaviour.

However, Nishriin Parikh a yoga strength and fitness instructor states, “Social media, is actually helping a lot and even people from remote areas are able to check out things about fitness that is broadening their knowledge. I get calls from people in rural areas who want to know about regimes and asanas.” Nishriin feels that when someone is exercising a lot, it is usually because they have a goal. And as long as the goal is achieved naturally and with hard work it is fine. She warns against taking steroids.

How to deal with it?

  • First of all, one needs to accept that exercise addiction is a legitimate problem. Once you do that you will begin to work towards solving it.
  • Ask yourself whether being addicted to exercising is serving some purpose. It helps to sort out what you are actually expecting and whether that makes any sense.
  • Reduce the time you devote to your regime by at least 50 per cent. Keep a timer by your side.
  • Check the damage that this addiction has on you and your life. And also, how it is affecting your life not just physically but emotionally as well.
  • Get the advise of a doctor for your regimen.
  • Indulge in all healthy hobbies you were pursuing earlier. Make time for them.
  • See a counsellor when life overwhelms you and deal with life’s stressors.

Symptoms of this disorder

How do you identify whether you are over-exercising? Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty says, “When the gymnasium becomes the drawing room of your house and you indulge and forget the rules of the game.” He gives us a few tips to help understand if one is into overexercising.

  • When you stop exercising for your goal of losing weight, staying fit or changing your body shape etc and only exercise to get a high. The feelings when you are exercising becomes a priority and not the effect exercise has on your body.
  • When you being to believe that exercise is about suffering and not about health and fun. You stop enjoying your exercise routine and do it only as a compulsion.
  • When your gym time is not just a priority in your daily schedule, but rather becomes your daily schedule and you spend long hours there.
  • When you are always ready to cancel outings with friends, and get-togethers and with family just so that you could stick to your regime. When you practice for marathon races ignoring your work schedules and basic responsibilities and have no time left for your hobbies.
  • When you actually crave certain routines or exercise regimes and compulsively download excessive information on exercising.
  • When you get irritated and angry if your exercise schedules are disturbed.
  • When exercise becomes an exam and a measure of your ‘macho’ activity
  • When you feel that you are compelled to engage in physical exercises, whether you actually need them or not.
  • You feel withdrawl symptoms including anxiety, irritability, fatigue, depression, and occasionally headaches and other pain sensations if you skip exercising for a while.
  • When you brag and talk about your fitness regime excessively throughout the day.

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