The benefits of exercise are endless and indisputable. However, what happens when a positive activity becomes an addiction? Lee Cooper, Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer with over ten years’ experience, discusses.
Exercise boosts fitness levels, increases bone density and muscle strength, promotes weight loss and improves overall well being, to name just a few of the benefits.
However, I’ve observed a growing trend in exercise addiction, which can result in overtraining. And, no matter how constructive something is, if it’s an addiction, the benefits become obsolete due to it being a need rather than a choice.
As a group exercise instructor, I regularly teach a number of classes consecutively or during a short space of time; an example of overtraining. Yet, since motivating class participants is an obligatory part of my job, it can be difficult to avoid overtraining but I can apply certain techniques to counteract mental or physical fatigue.
However, it appears that athletes and fitness instructors are no longer the only breed of people to over train. We know that athletes push their bodies to the limit, striving to improve their performance prior to competing, yet post-event, they take long rest periods to accelerate recovery.
Therefore, with some people choosing to overwork their bodies, this leads me to question, if they’re not athletes in training and they aren’t being paid to undergo a grueling regime, then why?
Feeding the addiction
My weekend sessions are a prime example of a group of addicts feeding their habit of exercise addiction, hurrying to and from various classes. Some are able to hold their own during this time, even though it may be their third or fourth class of the morning. Comparatively, others fail to provide any enthusiasm and flail as they strive to fight fatigue, yet only dwindle, drowning in the sea of participants.
There are many reasons why exercise can become an addiction, and it varies depending on the individual.
Aside from the psychological and physiological benefits of exercise it increases the production of the hormones known as endorphins – the happy hormones. Similarly, to the effect drugs have, which leads to the user constantly seeking that drug induced ‘high’, those addicted to exercise seek a similar feeling through exercise. The more exercise that’s undertaken, the harder it can become to achieve that feeling of euphoria, and when exercise is reduced, withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety and guilt may ensue.
Low self-esteem, distorted body image and a preoccupation with weight loss or toning is another reason why exercise may be addictive due to constantly striving for perfection.
And, whilst a competitive streak can be a useful driver, supporting individuals to reach a goal, again, this can become a detrimental quality and also lead to over exercising. I constantly hear gym members competitively compare the number of classes they’ve attended, and if they’ve missed a class, guiltily justify why.
But extreme exercise puts the body under stress. It increases chances of injury and stress fractures. Alarmingly, despite injury or pain, I’ve witnessed people continue with a strenuous exercise programme, refusing to recuperate. Sadly, the end result is often serious and, sometimes, irreversible injury.
Rest days are as essential as training. Allowing the body time to recover helps glycogen stores to refuel and helps avoid injuries caused by muscle overuse and mental burnout.
According to Elizabeth Quinn, exercise physiologist and fitness consultant with expertise in sports injuries, recovery time helps the body to adapt to the stress of exercise and enables the effects of training to work. She states that since exercise causes changes such as muscle tissue breakdown, recovery is fundamental and enables energy stores to be replenished and damaged tissues to be replaced.
Recovery shouldn’t be seen as a luxury or as being idle. It is a valuable route to enhance performance. From a professional point of view, I’d rather my participants attend one session on a given day, apply full gusto and leave feeling they’ve had a good workout, rather than struggle through multiple classes.
Rest needn’t mean ceasing activity altogether. To reach optimum fitness, I recommend alternating vigorous exercise with gentler activities throughout the week. Try yoga, pilates or walking. Adequate sleep is important too! To complement training and speed up recovery further, I’d suggest sports massages.
I’m an exercise advocate; I couldn’t do my job if I wasn’t. But exercise should be enjoyed and the many benefits reaped.
As true with many things in life, quality surpasses quantity. This is certainly true of exercise.
Lee Cooper and Vikki Bulbeck, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine