Hooked on Exercise

Christina Lasich, MD Health Pro May 18, 2012
  • Of all the things to get hooked on, exercise has got to be the healthiest habit to crave. Too bad more people aren’t hooked on exercise. Plenty of people are hooked on other things that aren’t so healthy like video games, caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and foods. These addictive activities cause a sudden rush of dopamine, a “happy” brain chemical, is just too pleasurable to resist. The pathological pursuit of pleasure can eventually turn into a full-blown addiction. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, those who are addicted to unhealthy habits continue to partake in the habit despite harm or dysfunction creeping into their lives.

     

    Even being hooked on exercise can become harmful to a certain extent, to the extent that damage is occurring. Some examples of too much exercise include exercise-induced amenorrhea, anorexia, or reoccurring injuries like stress fractures. Furthermore, being hooked on exercise could also disrupt normal interpersonal relationships if the exercise habit goes too far.

     

    But these extremes of an exercise addiction are really not very common in a world where people are habitually inactive. Those who doubt that exercise can become as pleasurable as eating a piece of chocolate have never experienced a “runner’s high”. That “high” is from the happy chemicals being released into the brain, the world’s most powerful medicine cabinet. Those who are hooked on exercise really do crave that rush of dopamine every day. Even Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, takes a seven mile run daily to begin her day with a dopamine rush. In her recent interview with Morley Safer of 60 Minutes, Dr. Volkow explains the power of being hooked and why old habits are so hard to break.

     

    But of all the things to get hooked on, exercise is the one thing that more people should get hooked on. Here’s how to get hooked on exercise.

    First, start doing a little bit every day. Get those chemicals flowing in your favor every day; pretty soon, you will hardly be able to go a day without exercise because you’ll be hooked. Next, find some type of exercise that you enjoy doing by yourself or with a buddy. In order to be hooked on something, it has to be a source of pleasure, relief, comfort, or escape. Finally, in order to really set the hook, exercise has to be convenient. If working out is too inaccessible, then you will find excuses not to do it. In order to start a habit like exercise, the activity has to be as convenient as reaching into your freezer to grab that pint of ice cream or reaching into your shirt pocket to grab a cigarette. Only this time, your habit just might save your life. Time to get hooked on exercise.