Fitness and Health

How to tell if you’re addicted to exercise (and why it matters) – Triathlete

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We’ve all had moments when we question our relationship with exercise. I happened to be in South Florida one morning when my training partner jumped on his bike and rode into a torrential downpour. I should go out there I have to make up for this session. I’m worried about the rest of the day. Nutrition should be adjusted. Maybe I should smoke it and ride it. Some people find it easy to get home, and others won’t tolerate the idea of ​​skipping that workout. But it’s because we want to, not because we want to. Better to…right?

It’s become a cliché for triathletes to call themselves “endurance junkies” on social media or say they need a “workout fix” every day. But claiming to be exercise addicted may indicate a much bigger problem than being an Instagram flex as virtuous as some think.

Exercise addiction is not a myth

Studies on the prevalence of exercise addiction (EA), aka “exercise addiction”, among triathletes are abundant. One study of 1,285 triathletes found that 20% showed signs of EA, and those who competed longer distances were at higher risk. Another study of both amateur and professional triathletes found EA rates to be 20-30% overall, compared to 41% in the professional group.

Primary EA refers to a behavioral addiction to exercise that begins with the goal of improving performance, but which often turns into an obsessive need for training. Secondary EA refers to the urge to exercise associated with eating disorders with the primary goal of burning calories and controlling weight. Scientifically validated risk assessments and even discussions of EA in the International Olympic Committee’s Consensus Statement on Mental Health confirm that both types of EA are genuine concerns for countless athletes. . But some of us may find it hard to believe that you can go crazy for something that looks so healthy. I can’t.

Related: Mental health was taboo in endurance sports. These researchers are changing that.

exercise addiction triathlon
(Photo: Getty Images)

get high on a try

There are several neurobiological reasons why triathletes are more likely to experience EA. Studies in endurance athletes have shown that both the high volume of training and the very high dedication to sport exhibited by most triathletes are likely to cause dependent behaviors. It may be due to the findings of new research showing that neurotransmitter release can trigger dependence on chemicals. Without an influx of substances, our moods can be compromised. .

A runner’s high can have a lot in common with a drug or alcohol high. In fact, many of the features of substance addiction are also found in EA.Athletes may experience conspicuity when they can’t stop thinking about training while at work, with family, or even during other activities. Conflicts can arise when we realize that we have been lying about how much we are doing and exercising.again We feel sad, anxious, depressed and/or sluggish until we can train. Failure to do so can quickly lead to withdrawal symptoms that can make you feel even more anxious, distracted, and depressed. Inevitably relapses occur when you can’t stay without training, often with even more volume and intensity. You can see how harmful an addiction can be, even if it’s just something.

The reasons we may feel we have to exercise aren’t all chemical. Some triathletes use training to combat low self-esteem, to not feel lonely, to manage their weight and body image, or to deal with anxiety or depression. That means we don’t manage these issues. When faced with defeating the devil or being plagued with emotional thoughts all day long, many of us literally choose to run. target. How many of us don’t feel like ourselves if we don’t train one day?

All of these addiction factors are exacerbated by the messages constantly being pumped out by the media. Because fitness and health directives are primarily aimed at the majority of the population, who tend to be sedentary, these messages are likely to encourage more rather than less physical activity. There is. A study of the cultural perceptions of endurance athletes shows that fears about weight gain and body size are prevalent, and an in-depth study of fitness-oriented social media suggests that we are conditioned to associate sexuality with personal success, perseverance, and even sex. Add to this the marketing flood of his messages that we have no limits, that pain is good for us, and that we shouldn’t quit when we’re tired. As a result, the media focus is always on exercising, no matter what the cost. No wonder so many of us suffer from EA.

Related: Pain is the message and it’s scary to hear

Exercise addiction warning signs

Some of these features can be difficult for us and our training partners to recognize, but there are some red flags that EA can address. The items in the list below are examples of behavior that may be questionable, but of course every athlete has a different experience.

Say yes to all invitations to exercise, even if you have completed your planned workouts for the day.

Are you doing double sessions when you don’t need to? Are you adding things like walks and gym sessions?

Excessive use of fitness trackers, activity trackers, and calorie trackers to dictate training and nutrition.

Would you ride an extra 1/4 mile to make rounds? no How do I reach my planned mileage/speed/number of sessions per week? Put half a tablespoon of peanut butter back in the jar because it doesn’t match the data from the tracker?

Missing important meetings, canceling plans with friends and family, and lying about the amount of training.

Do you have a habit of leaving meetings early and hopping on your bike? Did everyone in your family know that you don’t skip long runs, even on holidays? Do you routinely omit details for fear of reaction from others? do you

Training when injured, sick or in need of rest.

Have you ever trained anyway, complaining that you “can’t taper”? Do you only allow “active recovery” days instead of complete rest? Rainstorm/blizzard/cold/heat wave Have you ever exercised in

Related: Triathlete Hour: The whole triathlon approach to mental health went wrong

What to do if you (or a friend) think you’re addicted to exercise

It can be difficult to talk to a friend who seems to be struggling, but having a candid conversation can help that person expand their horizons. The first step to understanding EA risk is to do a quality self-assessment like the Exercise Addiction Inventory. However, even if you or a friend equate with any of the red flags above, we encourage you to consult a mental health care professional who specializes in EA.Maintain a healthy relationship with triathlon Doing also means working with a coach who can provide a plan that incorporates rest days with the right amount and intensity for your chosen goals.

In our community, athletes are often accustomed to exercise routines that may be considered excessive. It can be difficult to take a step back and recognize where you changed the tipping point from ‘willing’ to ‘obsessed’. Left untreated, EA can lead to serious injury, overtraining syndrome (OTS), hormonal imbalances, worsening anxiety and depression, and even poor performance at work and school. Go ahead and have some tough talks with your friends, or even yourself.

Related: Mental Health Resources for Triathletes

Jill Colangelo A researcher in sports psychiatry at the University of Bern, former triathlete and ultramarathoner.

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