Similar to drugs, exercise can produce a feeling of euphoria. While it is commonly used in addiction recovery, can exercise itself be misused like a drug? Find out what exercise does to your brain and when a healthy habit becomes a dangerous addiction.
Running around the block will not solve your emotional problems, but it can certainly make you feel better. Endorphins are the source of this euphoric feeling. Studies conclude that regular exercise can improve mood and may even play a supporting role in treating severe depression.
WHAT ARE ENDORPHINS?
When you exercise, your body comes under stress or experiences pain (hello, burpees). In response, your brain releases neurochemicals called endorphins. They are often known as the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals, and are the body’s natural painkillers.
Endorphins are structurally similar to the drug morphine and they activate opioid receptors in the brain that help to minimize discomfort. Further, they can also trigger a positive feeling in the body. They bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being.
EXERCISE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY
Studies suggest that adding exercise to addiction treatment can strengthen the effects of recovery. As mentioned above, exercise can give you a natural high and therefore replace the artificial one the person has been abusing, making it easier for them to cope with daily life.
IS EXERCISE ITSELF A KING OF A DRUG?
Exercise may prevent drug use, but aren’t you just replacing one compulsive, feel-good behaviour with another?
The same brain systems are affected by running and by addictive drugs. Because endorphins play a role in the brain’s reward system, scientists and doctors have suggested that the “feel-good” chemicals may play a role in exercise addiction.
The condition can be difficult to identify since exercise is a regular, healthy activity for many people. Like any other addiction, it can be very dangerous, therefore it is important to look out for the warning signs of exercise dependence.
HAVE YOU GONE OVER THE EDGE?
Exercise psychologists have designed an Exercise Dependence Scale to assess individuals’ risks for exercise addiction. The EDS weighs seven factors:
Meeting some of the above criteria does not necessarily mean you are addicted. Exercise is healthy as long as it is in balance with a full life. It is when exercise becomes all consuming – you start to lose friends or forgo social activities – that your workout schedule should become a cause for concern. Speak with a mental health professional or your doctor for help.