Exercise is often thought of in a positive light. It is common belief in today’s society that a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine will lead to a long, healthy life. And in the simplest sense of the word, it will. It has been a tried and true method to control and lose weight, lift a person’s mood, boost energy, combat a variety of health conditions and diseases, promote better sleep patterns, and even increase libido. (Mayo Clinic, July 23, 2011). So with all of these being possible and probable benefits of working out, why would it possibly be anything other than good? Certainly, something with so many benefits can’t be a bad thing? However, we may overlook the fact that it is like any good thing; in excess it can become dangerous very quickly. In society, there are increasingly more athletes that are pushing themselves so hard to the point they are making themselves sick. Whatever happened to exercising for simple joy, or competing because of a love for sport? The motivations behind an individual’s exercise habits are directly related to whether they develop an addiction. There is even a term for this over exercising phenomenon: Exercise Addiction, or Exercise Dependence.
Exercise dependence is a craving that a person would experience, manifesting itself in the form of compulsiveness in relation to exercise behaviour. It can show in physiological symptoms, such as withdrawal, or psychological signs like anxiety and depression. (Hausenblaus, Downs. 2000). Some of these psychological symptoms can be observed in anyone who is competitive and/or elite in their chosen sport, but it may not necessarily mean that they are “addicted”. It is not nearly as likely to see such behaviours in moderate exercisers (those who exercise 3 days a week or less).
Although it is strange to associate a positive habit like exercise with a negative one like drug abuse, there are common links between the two. To begin with, they both access the same region of the brain. To clarify, this occurs only when an individual is addicted to exercise. Both addictions to exercise and addictions to drugs access the brain’s limbic system, which contains an essential “reward circuit”. This reward circuit is what teaches us to associate functions essential to life, such as eating, with a pleasurable feeling. The limbic system is also the emotional centre of the brain. This is the same area that a person addicted to cocaine would be tapping into, which explains not only the altered emotional states of someone on cocaine, but how an addiction would develop. All addictive drugs work by overloading the reward circuit with dopamine, a neurotransmitter present in the limbic system. By overstimulation, the limbic system teaches the abuser to associate the drug use with pleasure, henceforth developing it into a necessary behaviour like eating. (National Institute of Drug Abuse).
Exercise dependency can have similar effects, as it also...