Ready, set, go… addiction!
Your heart beats, your body sweats, your mouth is dry, your muscles burn, your nerves are shattered, and your mind keeps talking to you. This description fits both that of a racer who wants to conquer their first marathon and an addict who has abstained for two days.
The inability to live without endorphins.
Not even for one day!
You run every day. You do two rounds of exercise. You can't ride without your bike. From Monday to Sunday, twelve months of the year, it's about performing. You can't stop. If you did, the break would push you into a spiral of anxiety, doubt and guilt. That's addiction. Addiction can take many forms. Just because we associate it with addictive substances or alcohol doesn't mean a beneficial thing such as sport can't negatively affect our mental health. The desire for that feeling of “extasy” can be just as strong. Sports obsession is driven by positive energies and chemicals that are released into the nervous system, which makes us feel good, and which can escalate beyond control.
"You have to run more, add heavier weights, cycle more kilometres, otherwise the pressure and despair of a lack of adrenaline will overwhelm you."
However, it's said that movement benefits health, develops personality, teamwork and self-discipline, all of which are highly valued traits in modern times. Science has long confirmed the positive benefits of sport and an active lifestyle on our physiology and psyche. Better cardiorespiratory fitness, greater muscle strength, lower risk of osteoporosis and depression, preventive protection against lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc. In this context, the negative aspects of sports addiction sound a bit paradoxical. So where does the boundary lie, and what or who determines it?
or destructive addiction?
Sports addicts don't give their bodies a chance to regenerate due to the frequency, intensity and length of training. They are more prone to injuries and to damaging their health. Their obsession gradually increases, with them needing ever larger "doses" to make them feel satisfied. They run further, train with more weights, ride faster. In addition to the physical and mental impact, their addiction also impacts their social lives.
"Without a thought, I would cancel a date, wouldn't go to a party or other get-together with friends, just so I could get up in the morning and get dressed for sports."
Would Kipchoge's marathon record or Sagan's cycling strength be born without hard and regular training? They were used to it from the beginning, right? Were they addicted? Do all professional athletes have to be obsessed to achieve anything? When and for whom do we tolerate damage to our health in return for an excellent result? Sports addiction is a complicated issue and, unlike other (drug related) addictions, is quite underestimated. The truth, however, is that it does exist, and many people walk the fine line between devotion and addiction and don't always have control of it firmly in their hands. It turns out that the balance can be easily upset and that you can easily become fascinated by success, without regard for the significant level of damage it can do to your health.
Sports addiction exists.
And it's harmful.
In Western societies, the sport has deviated from its original purpose of distraction or pleasure. It has become almost synonymous with performance, competitiveness and physical exertion. The term “sports addiction” has existed since 1970, when it was first identified by the Belgian-American chemist, inventor and industrialist Leo Baekeland. However, the full truth about the addictive nature thereof has only come to the attention of the public and scientists in the last 15 to 20 years.
Addiction (not just sports) is defined by the following aspects:
Excessive amounts – in terms of the extent, duration and frequency of certain behaviours
Loss of control over behaviour – inability to slow down / stop
Withdrawal symptoms when inactive
Intense desire to "act" – behaviour associated with a feeling of pleasure
Constant mental interest in the behaviour
Disruption of psychological, physiological and social functions
There is a big difference between addiction and the determination to exercise. Movement is important for determined people, but it isn't a central part of their lives. Most of them enjoy external rewards such as winning a race or being nominated for a team but can also enjoy rest days. In contrast, addicts are driven by internal motives such as losing weight, changing their appearance, etc. Exercise becomes the centre of their lives, with them unable to handle situations when they can't train. They suffer from anxiety, are irritable and prone to depression when they abstain (no training).
Key criteria of sports addiction:
Occurrence – the activity (e.g. running, cycling, swimming) becomes the most important activity in a person's life. It dominates their thinking, feelings and behaviour. When they have to do something else (work or family responsibilities), they continually think about training.
Mood swings – addicts see exercise as a means for improving their mood. They train to calm down.
Tolerance – athletes must gradually increase the “dose” to achieve the same euphoric effects, much like gamblers need to raise their bets to experience the same feelings as before.
Withdrawal symptoms – moodiness, irritability, anxiety. These symptoms appear when people are unable to train.
Conflict – trouble in interpersonal relationships, with partners, friends, family, because of the time they devote to sports.
Recurrence – the persistent potential to fall back into the extreme again even after a person is “cured” of their addiction.
What are the causes of exercise addiction? Although there is no clear answer, there are a few theories. One of the theories is that we develop a desire for endorphins, which are morphine-like substances that help relieve pain. Over time, we want more and more. Why? Because movement is the perfect tool with which to relieve stress. The problem is that some individuals need to gradually intensify their training to achieve the same effects of stress relief. Voila, the addiction is born. People who are perfectionists or who want to change their appearance tend to be more inclined to this. Perfection is often difficult to direct.
Today's to-do list?
To lie down.
It may seem like a fun task for some people, but it isn't that easy for those concerned. Going from one hundred to zero isn't highly recommended. It's necessary to find a long-term, healthy and sustainable balance in the level of training. In other words, to create a harmonious relationship with sport.
"You aren't weak or lazy if you take a day off. You don't have to constantly add new data to your sports watch to prove something to your friends and yourself."
The first thing to do is to realize the problem itself. We shouldn't be subjected to the pressures of modern times and constantly have to compare ourselves with others. It's important to understand that regeneration is a big part of training. The performance will not improve without it, quite the contrary, it will result in a spiral of fatigue, pain and the ever greater risk of injury. A fresh, rested body can give 100% of itself during training and as a result, will lead to progress. Continuous, daily stress only allows us to work at 70 – 80% of our true capacity and can potentially lead to the development of health problems.
"It's necessary to start thinking rationally and take control of yourself. Turn addiction into pure love, understand your body and protect it… from yourself."
Make a training and regeneration plan. Yes, it will be a tough fight at first, but you must force yourself to rest. Guilty feelings, moodiness and other negative feelings may arise. Do more types of activities. Diversify your training plan and, at the same time, involve more muscles and tendons. Develop your musculoskeletal system and, most importantly, make sure you don't fall into a stereotype. Work your head in other ways as well. Don't make sport your number one priority in life. Don't think about training all the time. Don't constantly monitor your statistics and results. There are many other joys in life to discover, be it on your own or with friends, family, colleagues at work…
Enjoy your newfound freedom.