Thursday, June 24, 2010

Exercise Addiction

I have been lightly teased about being addicted to exercise for the past few years. Considering the taunts come from people who never step foot in a gym, I felt no weight in the gravity of those allegations. Until recently. My little sis, who hasn't lived with me in three years (or in the same state even for two), called wanting to do a case study on me for a psychology project: "Larissa, I know you don't think you are addicted to exercise, but I think you have a problem."

I usually just pull the ole smile and nod. I know that trying to convince someone you are not addicted is like trying to convince someone you are not crazy - the harder you try the guiltier/crazier you appear.

My mind has been toying with this issue since she first "diagnosed" me. After all, if someone I love dearly is saying it, perhaps there is some legitimacy. Or perhaps not.

There is a fine line between what some view as addiction and what others view as passion or habit. This article states the point:
"Some people would consider a person deeply involved in a behavior but functioning well an addict. I wouldn't consider that person an addict. Just because somebody's become extraordinarily involved in something does not mean, by definition, that they're addicted, especially if all the rest of the domains of their life are being sustained and fulfilled. It would be like saying someone who's an artist and paints all the time is an addict to their art. I think that's a misuse of the term "addiction." Again, as long as the other domains of an individual's life are still maintained, and the behaviour doesn't cause the exclusion of other life and health promotive domains, even though the individual is engaging to it more often than perhaps preferred, it doesn't necessarily mean that it deserves the term "addiction"."

If I sang one hour per day, six days per week (the amount of time I spend working out), no one would accuse me of being addicted, simply dedicated to my craft. This body is the only one we get, people! You spend 9 hours per day become a professional x, or 2 hours per day watching television, but not one hour per day making sure you stay alive and healthy?

I originally concluded that those who do not participate in regular exercise simply do not understand why those who do meet the government's daily recommendation would submit themselves to what non-exercisers see as the torturous dregs of exhaustion. If one generally considers themselves motivated/normal but does not exercise, there must be something off-kilter with those who do. The solution is simple: Addiction. False logic? Oh yes.

I decided I had to pull some cold, hard facts. Thanks, Google.

How often should the average American exercise?
The Institute of Medicine recently released a lengthy report recommending that, as part of a routine regimen to maintain cardiovascular health and ideal body weight and body composition, we should all engage in 60 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity.(Click here to examine this report on-line.)
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans stated, "Most American adults should increase their aerobic activity to ... move toward 300 minutes a week. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week."

What is an exercise addiction?
Exercise addiction is evidenced by more than 90 minutes of continuous exercise 7 days a week.
The symptoms are recognizable: women and men who exercise for hours at a time. For example, an over-exerciser might take two to three classes back to back and then get on a treadmill or a stair climber to do more. Many lift weights for two hours or more per day, overtraining, and frequently causing physical harm.

What is addiction? What is dependence?
Addiction is mainly physical while dependency is mostly psychological.
The dictionary describes addiction as the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disorder with both genetic and environmental roots. It manifests as a compulsion that drives an individual to continue to behave in a way that is harmful to self and loved ones, despite an intense desire to halt that behavior.
It is a disease of "more" -- an active addict needs an increasing amount of substance to get high and is unable to cease usage without painful withdrawal symptoms.
Dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. As a child, this is not a negative state, as you need parents to raise and support you. As an adult, we have our free agency and anything that takes that agency away from us is a bad thing. There are certain exceptions like food and water and oxygen because we need those to live.

Is addiction or dependence a bad thing?
Yes. Addiction renders you physically incapable of controlling a behavior, while dependence renders you psychologically incapable of controlling a behavior.

How is an addiction different from a habit?
We all have little addictions called “habits” in which we engage in all the time. Our existence is based upon our learned habits, otherwise we might wake up every morning and wonder how we dress ourselves or bathe. We need to habituate to survive. We learn, the activity works, we do it again…and again…
Addiction comes into play when you cannot deviate from the force of the action, where you need more of the same action or substance to achieve the same result. You become trapped.

Am I/ are you an exercise addict?
I think you need to take the below questions with a grain of salt. You could twist these and make anything an addiction – sleep for instance. I have also shared my utmost honest answers.
Q: Do you shape your social, academic, or work schedule around your exercise program?
A: I plan my exercise as part of my day and am quite flexible depending on what I need to do. Don’t we do the same thing with sleep? Eating? Socializing?
Q: Do you skip meetings, classes, or events to workout?
A: Nope. Only reason I ever skip something for the gym is if I really didn’t want to go anyway and I need an excuse.
Q: Do you feel an immense amount of guilt, agitation, or anxiety if you skip a workout?
A: If I have a legit reason (anything other than sitting at home on my butt), no. I would prefer go to the gym and have worked hard to be healthy, but no real harm will come from missing a day or even a week. Of course one would feel disappointed if they didn't accomplish something just because they are being lazy.
Q: Are you only able to feel happy once you have completed your exercise routine for the day?
A: Sundays may just be the happiest day of the week - and the only day I don't exercise. So, of course I am happy without a workout. That being said, I always feel better after exercising – we all do. Scientific studies prove that our bodies release endorphins when we exercise. I also feel this amazing sense of accomplishment because every time I walk in that door I’m not quite sure I can push myself hard enough to get through my entire workout. When I do, of course I feel giddy inside that I won! I beat the gym! We all feel lifted when we accomplish a difficult task we have set before ourselves.
Q: Do you refuse to workout with others?
A: Ha. I relentlessly try to get others to come with me as often as possible.
Q: Do you exercise even if you are sick or injured?
A: 1/2 Guilty. Just for the sick part though, never if injured. And if I’m sick enough to need to visit the doc, I don’t visit Gym.
Q: Do you exercise for more than two hours daily?
A: Never. If I know I have a Frisbee game or rigorous dance rehearsal, I skip my cardio at the gym. I know over-training is a huge hazard and do all I can to avoid that. If I do end up having to be active for longer, I up my calorie intake.
Q: Do you have the same rigid routine each time you workout?
A: Nope. I’m quite flexible and will use whatever is available. I have somewhat of a routine, but if that muscle group is sore, I’ll work on something else. No biggie.
Q: Do you obsess over weight loss/calories burned when you exercise?
A: I do fret over my calorie intake, as anyone who has ever struggled with weight will, but I have no idea how many calories I actually burn at the gym. I know I feel good when I leave and know I’ve done my part to contribute to my fitness and that’s what really matters to me.


Conclusion
I may be involved with fitness, but no more than the government and the Institute of Medicine recommend for the average American. With their guidelines, I can't even consider myself "highly" active. I recognize the importance of health and keeping my body in its prime for as long as possible in a reasonable amount of time commitment per day.
I suggest that the average American is actually addicted to laziness. According to the definition, "cessation causes severe trauma," and leaving the couch would result in trauma for sure...

2 comments:

Shayla said...

oh my gosh this is the funniest thing I've read all day.
I WISH I had an exercise addiction. Alas, I still HATE the gym.

Jon said...

Wow. Several of those statements made me wonder if I'm addicted to sleeping in.