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Endorphins: The Natural High

When most people think of exercise, they think of all the healthy benefits it offers. However, most people do not realize that exercise is highly addictive. Exercise addiction is similar to drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions. This is due to the fact that all addictions start when an individual’s brain releases endorphins, which are hormones that are responsible for making one feel pleasure. One becomes addicted when they start to crave the feeling of pleasure from the endorphins and are willing to go to extremes such as spending excessive amounts of time at the gym to get them. Exercise is also addictive, because it benefits us positively. For example, it can improve mood and increased blood flow. Moreover, when people participate in group exercise it can serve as a support system contributing to the addiction. Common forms of this addiction are “yoga bliss” and “runners high”. Runners high is when a runner feels happy after running due to the endorphins released during the run. Similarly, yoga bliss is described as the feeling of happiness and contentment after a yoga class or individual yoga practice.

With this new information some questions may have arised. The first question would be, “How do I know if I am addicted?” and “Who tends to be addicted to exercise?” According to a study by de la Vega, Parastatidou, Ruíz-Barquín, and Szabo, competitive team athletes were more likely to have exercise addictions, because they were passionate about their sport and spend vast amounts of time perfecting their game. Moreover, athletes tend to place their identity in their sport, making them more susceptible to an exercise addiction. However, CNN reports that casual athletes can also become addicted.

We should first establish a clear definition of an exercise addiction. An exercise addiction is characterized as feeling “high” after exercise, having excessive urges to exercise, exercising irregardless of physical ailment i.e. pushing past their physical limit, or spending extreme amounts of time planning and/or thinking about exercise. Additionally, when someone addicted to exercise does not exercise they will suffer from withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include sleep problems, depression, anxiety, and confusion. Further side effects of this addiction are lack of control due to exercise taking precedence in the individual’s life, guilt, depression, skewed self image, physical injuries such as muscle or joint injuries, and eating disorders.

Now that we have established what an exercise addiction is, you may be wondering what we should do if we have this problem. We can combat exercise addiction by not placing our self worth only in our athletic abilities but by broadening our self image to include other activities e.g., traveling or writing. Furthermore, exercise addiction can be eased by slowing down on the amount one exercises despite the fact that we will face withdrawal and developing yourself more. For more extreme cases, an individual may need to seek help from a therapist to work

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