What do runners and crackheads have in common?

I don’t do drugs, but I can’t quit exercise.

Some would say I am addicted. Or I was. I like to think I have things under control now. But, you know what they say, “once an addict, always an addict.”

I’m trying though. Everything in moderation. Right? Short, effective workouts. Less time in the gym, more time living. I actually listen to my body when it tells me to slow down. That I need a break.

Do you take breaks? I think they’re called rest days. It was a new concept for me too. It’s hard for most athletes and runners to grasp. It’s just as difficult to get when you’re trying to lose weight. We have to do more, more often. Go further, faster. No pain, no gain. Put up or shut-up. Go big or go home.

And go big I did. Hour after hour. Day after day. Until my body actually began to shut down. I turned yellow. It’s called jaundice. It leads to liver failure. Not good.

Feening for fitness

I scheduled my life around my workouts. I planned my days around my meals. Ditched friends. Pissed people off. Bailed on commitments. Probably missed out on some really great experiences. I needed to make fitness meaningful because I couldn’t find meaning in anything else. I was too busy obsessing over exercise.

I thought – Running makes me feel good. I don’t have to think about anything. It’s my escape. Give me more of that. Just a little further. Ignore the pain. The warning signs that you’ve gone too far. That something’s wrong. Just keep doing the one thing that makes you feel good.

Athlete or addict

Reading that you might think I sound a lot like a crackhead or heroin addict or alcoholic. I’m not trying to make light of those things. I never would. Substance abuse is a serious thing. No laughing matter. But, I felt a lot like an addict when I was writing it.

As it turns out addicts and athletes have more in common than you may have thought. Substance abuse is associated with building a tolerance, cravings, withdrawal and the need to use “just to feel normal.” So is exercise. If you don’t believe me just as David J. Linden, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University medical school. He writes all about exercise and addiction in his book, “The Compass of Pleasure.”

Exercise addicts display all of the hallmarks of substance addicts: tolerance, craving, withdrawal and the need to exercise ‘just to feel normal, Linden writes.

What are you smoking?

Nothing. I’m high on exercise. It’s true. It can happen.

Chug a beer. Take a drag from a cigarette. Puff, puff, pass. A shot of heroin. A nose-full of cocaine. Partaking in any one of these acts will cause your brain to go haywire. A powerful chemical cocktail cascades into your body. Molecules are mobilizing. Electrons are firing. It’s a neurological chain reaction that will leave you reeling.

Exercise lights up our pleasure pathways the same way that drugs do. “Scientists have shown that rhythmic, continuous exercise — aerobic exercise — can in fact produce narcotic-like chemicals in the body.”

Of course, the problem isn’t exercise in itself. Running does a body good. Your heart gets bigger and stronger. Pumps more blood. Use oxygen more efficiently. Burn calories. The list goes on. It’s not just running either. Other forms of exercise make us happy and healthy.

You are the problem

The problems start to pop up right about time we begin to prioritize exercise over other areas of our life. We lose sight of what’s really important. We know we should stop or slow down or make time for other things, but we don’t. That’s when we seem like an addict. Like a crackhead.

Call it exercise addiction, or overtraining syndrome or exercise dependence. It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you recognize it with when you see it. Then you address it before it becomes a full-blown addiction.

Remember, exercise is supposed to make you healthy. It’s should never be the cause you to be unhealthy. Stop overdoing it. Focus on being fit and happy instead.