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Exercise Addiction in Men

When exercise becomes too much

Treatment for exercise addiction

Treatment for exercise addiction, say the therapists, involves getting the athletes to see they have a problem and that change is necessary. “You have to give them a sense of worth. Maybe they never had a good self-concept. Is it something that happened in childhood? Maybe there’s addiction in the family,” Rhea says.

Some runners who run into trouble start by becoming addicted to “runner’s high,” a feeling of elation caused by the release of hormones. Yates says, “There’s a change in the psyche — they talk about almost out-of-body experiences, feeling as if they can change the world.” But eventually, the adrenal gland burns out and they crash. “What was once gratifying becomes painful and controlling. It becomes a bad thing, but they can’t get out of it.”

Yates sees a cultural context for exercise addiction. “I think it has to do with very high expectations for autonomy and independence in the culture now. You have to move from place to place to get ahead in your job; you have to leave people behind who were significant to you. Many things make us need to be more independent than before.”

Yates tells her patients that “dependency is not a horrible thing. The expectations we have for ourselves and others may be off base. Autonomy is good. But when it gets carried too far, it can be unhealthy.” In other words, psychotherapy may be part of the path to getting off the treadmill. On the other hand, it may not be necessary in all cases.

For many athletes, obsessive exercising is a self-limiting condition, says Cockerill. “They tend to reduce their involvement to sensible levels themselves over time when their life, generally, is on an even keel.”

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Reviewed on June 01, 2007

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