Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Too much of a good thing... is bad...? does it include too much exercising?

Hooked on exercise

SINGAPORE - Despite having a healthy weight, you work out almost every day. Then, you start planning social obligations, such as family dinners, around your exercise routine. Nothing can stop you from breaking that routine, not even injury or illness, when you miss a workout session, you become irritable or anxious.

If the description sounds familiar, then you might be addicted to exercise.

Since young, we've had the importance of regular exercise drummed into our subconsciousness. It's good for the body and studies have even shown that it nourishes the mind.

For some individuals however, this healthy way of life is taken to extremes.

Jane (not her real name), a mother-of-one, could not stop her daily high-intensity cardio workouts even during her pregnancy. Because of her exercise obsession, she has given up looking for a part-time job that would allow her to continue with her frequent workouts.

Exercise addiction is currently not recognised as a medical disorder. It is also less common, compared to other forms of addiction such as gambling and drug abuse. However, experts said it is possible to become addicted to exercise.

Too much of a good thing

"It's true that too much of a good thing can be bad," said consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrian Wang, who runs a private practice at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

He added: "Like any addiction, if one's thoughts and behaviour revolve around the activity - in this case, getting a daily dose of exercise - to the point it affects other aspects of life, then it becomes an addiction."

Several theories try to explain why people become addicted to exercise.

"Some believe it is the feeling of self-control that a person gets from exercising," said senior sports performance psychologist Emily Ortega, from the Singapore Sports Institute at the Singapore Sports Council.

There is another hypothesis: "Exercise stimulates the production of amine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which results in positive moods after exercise. This is also known as the 'runner's high'," Ms Ortega added.

Who is at risk?

According to Dr Wang, those who are easily anxious and perfectionists tend to be more prone to exercising compulsively.

This form of addiction can also co-exist with other psychiatric disorders, in particular eating disorders.

"These are people who are obsessed with losing weight and have an unhealthy body image. Self esteem is also a problem. They use exercise to control their weight," explained Dr Wang.

Warning signs

It is relatively easy to tell if a person has an exercise addiction.

"He or she puts exercise at the top of their list of priorities. Like other addictions, he experiences withdrawal symptoms from not exercising. The exercise becomes a maladaptive behaviour instead of enhancing the person's life," said Ms Ortega.

For instance, the person may continue his punishing workouts in spite of injuries, inadequate rest and recovery.

Not giving your body enough rest after intense workouts can take its toll on the body, physically.

"Over-exercising may result in overuse injuries leading to inflammation of the tendons and muscles. Severe cases can also lead to stress fractures, causing further damage around the joints," said Dr Lim Yeow Wai, specialist in orthopaedic surgery at Raffles Hospital.

"After a vigorous exercise, there may be a lot of lactic acid accumulation in your muscles. Your body needs time to clear away these metabolites, hence resting is important."

With intensive strength-training, the general rule of thumb is to rest your muscles on alternate days, said Bob Armstrong, co-owner and manager of women's fitness gym, Curves.

Dr Lim said to "listen to your body". "If you develop pain during exercise, stop and reduce the intensity till your body is comfortable."

Treatment - should you abstain from exercise?

In other addictions, abstinence is the key to recovery but this is not the case for exercise addictions. After all, exercise, when done in moderation, is healthy, said Ms Ortega.

This is where cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) comes in handy. It helps the person to rethink negative thoughts and behaviour.

Dr Wang added that sufferers should also learn stress management techniques and address other underlying issues such as self-esteem or work-stress problems.

While experts urge moderation, Mr Armstrong doesn't think exercise addiction is a problem in Singapore - yet.

"Too much exercise is bad but right now, the challenge is getting Singaporeans to work out enough. For anyone who is working out, I reckon there are at least three who are not exercising enough," he said.

One addict's confession

"I think I am addicted to exercise."

That was 21-year-old Muhammad Syahidin Shareffuden's somewhat sheepish response when asked if he has been overdoing his gym workouts.

In spite of a chronic neck and back injury, Syahidin, who is serving his National Service, simply can't stop exercising.

"I get stressed if I miss a session. I also get angry when I have do other things instead of going to the gym," he said, adding that he prefers to work out for about three hours alone instead of hang out with friends.

"I have a strict training routine through the week. I hate it when I have to break it."

Syahidin got hooked on exercise three years ago. Unsatisfied with his physique, he took to weight training. At 1.77m tall, he is at a healthy weight of 70kg. Yet, he feels that he needs to train more to achieve his dream figure.

Syahidin acknowledges that he has a problem but said he won't be seeing a psychologist any time soon.

"I will probably try to cut down on my own when I achieve the body I want. In the meantime, my addiction is not hurting anyone so I think it's okay even though I am hurting myself," he said, with a laugh.

- TODAY/rl

Taken from ChannelNewsAsia.com; source article is below:
Hooked on exercise

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