Is exercise addictive?

We all know someone who is “addicted” to exercise or gets irritable or anxious if they don't go to the gym. This has an explanation... or several.

Our body releases two essential hormones during exercise, which not only help maintain mental health but also support the treatment of depression problems: endorphin and dopamine. Both have positive interference on mood and emotions. Another common effect attributed to exercise is the production of serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter that can help regulate mood.

If we practice regular physical activity, we will have:

  • Increased sense of physical well-being;
  • Increased sense of mental and emotional well-being;
  • Reduction of stress symptoms;
  • Release of dopamine and serotonin, which contribute to the reduction of depression symptoms;
  • Improved self-esteem;
  • Regular physical activity also promotes socialization.

For the American College of Sports Medicine, the American association for sports medicine and exercise science, maintaining a healthy training practice requires three to five weekly sessions lasting 30 to 60 minutes each. The World Health Organization, on the other hand, advises adults to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week and up to five hours for more significant benefits.

The "addiction” issue

We release endorphins that we quickly get used to because it feels so good when we exercise. These neurotransmitters create a feeling of pleasure, relaxation, and analgesic effect, so some people can't resist feeling this rewarding response all the time...that will end if you stop exercising.

This issue is mixed up with another one, 'bigorexia', in which the athlete wants to obtain an ideal appearance and shape, or a highly defined body. In the 'addiction' to exercise case, it’s all about searching for sensations, such as the euphoria of a result or the pleasure of achieving it. Unfortunately, what often happens is a combination of the two: some people start doing sports in search of a sculptural body and become addicted to the physical sensations of the sport itself.

What is advised

The most important thing is to focus on your goal, and what makes you happy. It is good to adapt the program individually, respecting training, food, and rest. Experts reinforce that the limit of what is healthy is that exercise should not be above everything else but should rather be an essential complement to a better life.

Since the various types of physical exercise have specific organic repercussions depending on whether they are professional competition athletes, amateur sportsmen, or practitioners for the prevention and treatment of diseases, it is necessary to understand that each case is different.

For the average exerciser, a few good ideas to keep in mind:

First, respect your limits: excessive physical exercise, without respecting the body's signals, can result in severe consequences and injuries. Especially when starting or getting back, practicing exercise should be progressive.

Seeking a personal trainer: the accompaniment of a professional allows you to maximize your workout with a small margin for error because the training is customized to each person's physiology, physical condition, and specific goals. It is a good idea to opt for a package of classes and then later become independent, for example. 

Less can be more: it is not appropriate to skip workouts frequently and make it up all in one day. You'll wear out your muscles when you should be recovering them, and it will avoid the natural acceleration of your metabolism after each session. Slower results are healthier and longer lasting.

Get enough rest: Sleeping between 7 to 9 hours is essential for the body to recover from an intense workout since it is during deep sleep, that the growth hormone is released - the same hormone that leads to muscle tone.

Eat properly: it is essential to eat a balanced diet every day, allowing you to burn more calories than those you ingested and have enough energy to train and recover from the effort. Seek the support of a nutritionist at the beginning, if necessary.


Recent findings

A major study recently published in the scientific journal 'Cell Metabolism' sheds new light on this subject. It talks about the 'Atlas of Exercise Metabolism' and reinforces the idea that different hormones and other substances are produced by the body at a different rate depending on the timing of the workout.

This would affect metabolic balance, caloric expenditure, performance, sleep, etc. There is still much to be explored, but scientists believe that in the near future it will be possible to prescribe training plans even more adapted to the characteristics of each person.