Exercise fanatics may be addicted
2004-04-12
MARILYN LINTON, London Free Press

An interesting article in Cross Currents, the Journal of Addiction and Mental Health, suggests that people who exercise excessively may be addicted. The journal, published by Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), explores the phenomenon known as runner's high.

People who regularly exercise hard have a tendency, if they go off their routines, to experience psychological withdrawal symptoms such as tension, irritability and restlessness.

Swedish scientists have shown that rats, forced to run 10 kilometres a day, develop brain patterns similar to those of drug or alcohol addiction. In Britain, another scientist has been looking at over-exercising in women with eating disorders.

Researchers estimate 12 per cent of regular gym-goers have problematic relationships to exercise. The anxiety and ritual of punishing daily exercise is typical of a syndrome some researchers call exercise bulimia or anorexia athletica.

On the other hand, say scientists, whether or not it's a problem may depend on the person doing it.

"Running 20 miles a day could for some be a sign of loss of control," says CAMH's Dr. Wayne Skinner. "For others, it could be a demonstration of amazing personal control and self-mastery."