Most people understand that exercise releases endorphins into your body and stimulate's the motivational neurotransmitter known as dopamine. However, what a lot of people don't realize is that these are the exact same neurotransmitters released during any alcohol or other drug use, and during other process addictions like gambling and internet pornography.
Any person who becomes addicted to exercise feels a sense of reward and joy when exercising, provided by the release of dopamine in your system. Dopamine also provides a certain amount of euphoria, which can sometimes be responsible for what we know as the "runners high". When people stop exercising, the neurotransmitters also stop producing and go away, which leaves the individual feeling like they have to exercise more to trigger the chemical release.
Exercise "addiction" usually starts with a desire for physical fitness. Sometimes, when an individual stops using alcohol or other drugs, exercise can be a replacement for the individual seeking the dopamine high they have recently lost. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, it is important to monitor the amount of exercise an individual is participating in, to make sure it has not replaced the previous substance use and could be heading for a dangerous place in itself.
In some cases, an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, may lead to an unhealthy obsession with exercise. A body dysmorphic disorder, or body image disorder, may also be responsible for an addiction to exercise. These can be very dangerous physical situations for those experiencing them, and the right interventions are required in order to build a recovery plan that is catered to the individual.
In almost all cases, people addicted to exercise display traits very similar to those of other addicts, which include, obsessing over the behaviour, engaging in the behaviour even though it’s causing physical harm, continuing to engage in the behaviour despite wanting to stop and engaging in the behaviour in secret or hiding the amount of exercise being done. Extreme weight loss and other health conditions related to weight loss can result from exercise addiction.
If this sounds familiar to you and your behaviours, or those of a loved one you are concerned about, and you would like to make some changes in your exercise-related behaviours, take a look at the information contained in our website and the external resources for exercise addiction that we offer here The Liberation Place. If it's time to make a change and reach out for the support, recovery is a journey that starts with just one step, and only you alone can choose to take that step, but remember you are not destined to be alone when you choose to take that step with The Liberation Place!