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Men's Health

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Exercise Addiction in Men

When exercise becomes too much

Extreme exercisers have an extreme need for control continued...

Matt says, “My wife knows that if I don’t get a certain amount of biking in, I’m a pain.” He rides every Sunday for two hours with a group of friends, as well as two or three additional hours per week. But family comes first. And part of the pleasure he takes in biking is the opportunity it provides for socializing.

“Beer tastes better after exercise,” Matt says. “I think runners tend to be more solitary than bikers.”

Indeed, treatment for exercise addiction often includes encouraging patients to take up more social forms of exercise such as yoga and cycling instead of the solitary pursuits of running or going to the gym, which can be breeding grounds for perfectionist pathology.

Exercise addicts are high achievers

Psychiatrist Alayna Yates, MD, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, has seen about 100 men and women she describes as “obligatory runners.” They’re an unusually high performing, smart bunch, with an average of 18 years of education.

“We need people like this,” Yates says, “but we need to help them diversify. These people are locked into their regimes. They eat one meal a day, or eat exactly the same foods at each meal every day. They measure everything — their caloric intake, how much starch they’re eating. They’re overly focused and overly serious about sport and it messes up the rest of their lives. There isn’t time or room for relationships. They stop going to parties. They go to bed at eight so they can get up at four and run. There are divorces.”

It stands to reason that the best athletes would be exercise addicts — since their professional lives revolve around athleticism. But, says Yates, the best runners may or may not be the obligatory ones. “It’s just as likely to be the men who have jobs and go out running at night as it is the athletes. It has more to do with personality variables than profession.”

There seem to be as many definitions of addiction as there are addicts; but one thing they have in common is the repetition of a behavior past the point where it becomes self-injurious. In exercise, this means, quite literally, refusing to stop or even limit your regime when you’ve got an injury.

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