Are You Addicted to Running? The Fine Line Between Consistency and Obsession
Isn’t it funny how running evokes such strong emotions in people? Beginner runners and non-runners alike often admit to having a strong feeling of dislike towards running. And for some that feeling might even border on loathing. But then, on the other hand, you have devoted runners who just can’t get enough. They adore running. Rain or shine, they’ll be out there pounding the pavements or hitting the trails. And they just can’t say enough good things about it.
And while a lifetime of sensible, consistent running will benefit you in many ways, there are individuals who take their love for running too far. Because instead of using it as a tool to enable them to live a healthy, happy life, it becomes the center of their lives. Their whole existence starts revolving around running, causing other aspects of their lives to suffer.
Does that sound familiar? Then here’s what you need to know.
What Is Exercise Addiction?
Exercise addiction can be defined as “a chronic loss of perspective of the role of exercise in a full life.” An individual suffering from this condition is therefore unable to see value in activities that are unrelated to exercise and will continue exercising even when it’s against his or her own best interest.
Who Is Most at Risk of Exercise Addiction?
According to psychologist Sharon Stoliaroff, perfectionist individuals with an intense approach to life are especially vulnerable to exercise addiction. And while these traits appear quite positive, it is often underlain by psychological causes linked to low self-esteem. As a result, gratification and validation is found in the gains made and admiration gained through training.
Are You Addicted to Running?
So where exactly is this thin line between being a committed runner and being an obsessed one? And how do you know that you’ve crossed that line? According to Heather Hausenblas, a health psychologist who has studied exercise addiction for more than 20 years, being unwilling or unable to take time off when injured is generally a sign that you’ve crossed the line. Exercise addicts rarely take time off to recover when injured and, if they do, they experience a range of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping.
Another giveaway is when exercise becomes all-consuming in an individual’s life. When someone starts skipping family, work and other commitments in order to sneak in a run, the chances are good that an exercise addiction is present.
The Exercise Dependence Scale
This is, however, not the only way in which to determine whether consistency has turned into addiction. Hausenblas helped develop the Exercise Dependence Scale, a more encompassing tool that looks at different criteria to determine the presence of an exercise addiction. The scale basically focuses on the following factors, adapted here to having running as main focus for the purpose of this blog post:
- Do you constantly feel that you have to run more in order to reap the same benefits from running?
- Are you in control of your running habits? Can you successfully cut down or control your urge to run?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop running, e.g. anxiety or fatigue?
- Do you often run more than you intend to, e.g. plan to run ten miles but then run 15 instead?
- Are you cutting down on other activities, e.g. family, work or social events, in order to spend more time running?
- Do you spend a great deal of time doing activities that require exercise, e.g. when on holiday?
- Do you keep on running despite the presence of recurring niggles or injuries?
Based on a computerized score obtained after answering 21 questions that relate to these seven factors, an individual is then categorized into one of the following three groups:
- At-risk for exercise dependent
According to Hausenblas approximately 25% of runners worldwide are estimated to suffer from exercise addiction.
The Consequences of Having a Running Addiction
And while some may confuse the symptoms of exercise addiction with simply being a hard core runner, its consequences can be serious. According to Emilio Landolfi, a kinesiologist from the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada, physical consequences of exercise addiction may include the following:
- A higher risk of injury
- Constant exhaustion
- Damage to the heart
And while these symptoms may be similar to that of overtraining, exercise addiction is even more serious. Why? Because someone suffering from exercise addiction may be unable to take a break when overtraining symptoms start manifesting. Obsessive running therefore comes back to bite you: Obsessive runners who do not get help are rarely able to make running a life-long endeavor. Their bodies simply can’t keep up.
What to Do If You’re an Exercise Addict
So what are you to do if you suspect that you are suffering from exercise addiction? Experts recommend the following:
- Try to shift your focus from quantity to quality workouts.
- Keep a diary of your training.
- Work with a qualified coach or trainer on a weekly basis and focus on sticking to the workouts given. The same goes for rest and recovery days.
- If you miss a workout for whatever reason, let it go. Do not double up on workouts the next day.
- Set small, manageable goals to gradually start decreasing your mileage or the time you spend running.
- Focus on setting non-running related goals in your life too.
- Share your concerns with a friend or someone you trust to help keep you accountable.
- If the actions above render no results, seek professional help.
- If you suspect that a friend or family member is suffering from exercise addiction, very carefully bring the issue to their attention without making any accusations. Keep in mind, though, that denial is often a part of all addictive processes. Your loved one may therefore need some time to process what you have to say.
And just in case you were wondering, it’s not necessary to completely give up on running. The key lies in recognizing the problem and then moderating behavior. And, if you can’t do it alone, get a professional to assist you.
More of a Good Thing Is Not Always Better
So although running is a vital and extremely enjoyable part of thousands of committed runners’ lives, always remember that it should never become the center of your existence. It is merely a contributing element to a happy, balanced life. It should enhance your life, not rule it. So take a long, honest look at your running habits and seek help if required. While it might not seem like it now, doing so will serve you best in the long run.