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Exercise Addiction

Posted Aug 27 2009 9:31pm

A study published last week had this headline, "Exercise can be addicting".

Surprised? Maybe not. Nevertheless most people might not assume that something like exercise, which depending on how you practice it, can make you sweat and leave you exhausted, might actually be addicting.

"Excessive running shares similarities with drug-taking behavior," the researchers wrote in the August issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association.

As I say in my book, 100 Questions and Answers about Anorexia Nervosa,  t here are no specific, global standards for judging whether exercise behavior is excessive; therefore, what may be appropriate
levels of exercise for one person may be unhealthy levels of exercise for another. 

Healthy exercise tends to be social and enjoyable and is engaged in irrespective of the amount of food eaten. In contrast, unhealthy, excessive exercise tends to be obligatory, performed in isolation, and is undertaken with the primary goal of losing weight or burning off calories that have been ingested. Exercise that is excessive or interferes with physical or emotional health may be an indicator of something known as exercise
dependence (Shepphird, 2009).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (IV-TR), exercise becomes excessive when it significantly interferes with important activities, when it occurs at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings, or when a person continues exercising despite an injury or other medical complication.

In my book, I include a helpful measure created by researchers at the University of Florida and Pennsylvania State University that can be useful in assessing for exercise dependence. It evaluates seven different aspects of exercise dependence, including tolerance, withdrawal effects, continuance of exercise despite injury or other physical problems, lack of control, reduction of other activities (e.g., spending time with family or friends), time spent exercising, and intention (e.g., exercising for longer
than was planned). Treatment teams may use a measure such as this in order to determine if one’s level of exercise meets the criteria for exercise dependence.

The book also includes a quick self-test about over-exercise and practice suggestions for parents who are concerned that their child or teen may be over-exercising.

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