Exercise Addiction: Getting your Daily Dopamine Fix

People who exercise consistently and hard are thought to be devoted and doing good for their bodies. Commitment is required to be hard core. An alternative view is that they are addicted to the spurt of dopamine that they receive during each workout, very similar to all other addictions. In an age where most people don’t get enough exercise, this cannot be bad, right? Can you have a diet addiction? Apparently so.

Exercise addiction must be pretty rare. It is so much better than substance addiction such as alcohol, smoking, and drugs. However all these addictions do the same thing: habituate the person to do more, to the detriment of other parts of their life. It is interesting to me that one can have an exercise addiction, where the person wants to do increasingly more exercise.

…Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs argues that America’s “mass-addiction society” is a major driver of unhappiness. He cites traditional substance addictions, such as alcohol or opioids. But he also highlights unconventional addictions, including exercise and diet-related compulsions.

“My argument is that the U.S. is suffering an epidemic of addictions, and that these addictions are leaving a rising portion of American society unhappy,”

Here’s an explanation of Runner’s High, which may push people to do longer distances or longer lengths of time exercising. It is fascinating that this can happen to almost any activity, and is not limited to substances.

She explains that “runner’s high” is a legitimate neurochemical phenomenon. When you run long distances or engage in other forms of vigorous training, your brain is flooded with dopamine and other opioid-like chemicals that induce a pleasant state of euphoria. “But if you train all the time, you develop tolerance to these chemicals, just like people develop a tolerance to alcohol or drugs,” Cauthen says. “So the feeling you used to get after 30 minutes now takes 45, and it becomes this continuous chase.”

In a frenetic world where one has little control over your destiny, exercise can be used as a way to control your world, and be comforted by this small amount of control. It is interesting that exercise, which is supposed to benefit the body, can also have numerous benefits for the mind.

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