Mar 01 2018, - by Andrea Ross
Anna Boniface is one of Run3D's Sponsored Elite Athletes. She has been on quite the journey in the past year, from winning the non elite womens race at the London Marathon to developing an injury in October. Being an athlete isn't always easy, espeically when we get knocked down with an injury. Anna tells us more... ..READ MORE
Jan 13 2017, - by Andrea Ross
Is it possible to be addicted to something that is considered to be good for you? When you think of addiction - drugs and smoking come to mind. Believe
it or not, scientists have reported that running could be as addictive as heroin. Surely though, running is a positive addiction then? Remember
that saying – “too much of a good thing is bad for you”… Well, they meant it.
The (slightly blurred) definition of a running addiction is “continuing to run even to the detriment of an individual’s social life, work, and even health ( Chan & Grossman, 1988)”. Another commonly used term in research is “Exercise Dependent”, which is a condition in which moderate to vigorous physical activity becomes a compulsive behaviour. It’s considered to be a cluster of cognitive, behavioural and psychological symptoms (Hausenblas & Symons Downs, 2002).
But running is good for you, right?
Running has both positive psychological and physiological correlations. It has been shown to influence and improve body image, weight control, self-esteem, anxiety, and reducing and providing a coping mechanism for stress ( Chan & Grossman, 1988).
What happens if you take it away then…
Researchers have suggested that runners rely on physical activity as a primary mechanism to cope with stress. Therefore, all those positive associations are lost and the ability maintain the psychological and physiological benefits of running are reduced – often resulting in symptoms of withdrawal and other emotional distress. A Runners World article (2015) described running withdrawal to be associated with; low mood, depression, increase in anxiety and stress, lack of control of exercise habits, feeling of a need to exercise to fix problems, and so on.
A study in 1988 by Chan & Grossman compared the psychological and emotional effects of running in a group of ‘consistent’ runners and a group of runners prevented from running due to injury. Their findings reflected recent research and stated that although “ running provides many benefits, running loss observed after a running related injury can result in psychological distress and negative affective experience for a runner - fuelling their deprivation of the activity” ( Chan & Grossman, 1988). Sound familiar?
Why is running addictive?
Ever heard of a “runners high”? It is described as a feeling of euphoria after a run and has been ascribed to the beta endorphin activity in the brain – similar to how morphine acts – and may cause dependence. For this physiological response to occur, exercise needs to be performed at 60% of an individual’s Vo2max and for a minimum of 3 minutes. Other physiological theories include lowering basal heart rate, thermogenic regulation hypothesis, and catecholamine hypothesis ( Berczik, K. et al 2012).
Whats the big deal then. You’ve just told me running is good for you…
Running is so much more popular now than it used to be. Perhaps as a result of social media and access to friends training logs, like Strava and map my run, you are much more likely to praise someone for a 20 mile run than to ask them if they need help. It isn’t seen as a genuine addiction and in fact, especially in running communities like clubs and you social groups, it is considered socially acceptable to run – even for extreme cases. Berciz et al (2012) stated that because running has a positive association with healthy living – we consider it to be a normal activity – whereas someone who sits on the couch and plays video games is considered ‘abnormal’ due to its negative relationship.
Go on, why is it so bad then?
According to a Runners World magazine, there is a fine line between being a dedicated athlete and being addicted to running. But it’s starting to be more recognised as a legitimate problem.
Scientists and doctors have noted that physically you could be causing yourself more harm than you think. There is of course the high risk of injury with the increase in load, exhaustion, and even cardiac damage. And then, likely even more so, there is the psychological problems of depression, withdrawal, reduced self-esteem, and lack of stress management. If running is your only coping mechanism and you become injured, what happens then? You’re likely going to experience a psychological impact from not running - or if you really are extreme you will run through it and cause yourself more harm than good.
How do you know if you’re addicted?
This is the tricky part – and likely another reason why we struggle to see it as an actual addiction problem. However if you rely solely on running to reduce stress, feel like you aren’t running enough – despite your high mileage and daily runs, feel like you’re letting yourself or others down if you miss a day of training, missing work or social events to exercise - you might be addicted.
If you’ve ever been injured before, and I can admit here that I definitely experience this, then you can probably relate. What to do about it? The best thing is probably start to re think your training plan and make sure you are giving yourself enough rest to start with. Another way to manage will be to come up with other coping strategies, so that in the likely event that you do get injured because of the excessive training, you don’t fall off the wagon.
*Please note: We are not sports psychologists and information on this article has used running related research as sources*
Chan, C., & Grossman, H., 1988. Psychological effects of running loss on consistent runners, Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 66, pp. 875-883.
Champan, L., De. Castro, J., 1990, Running Addiction: measurement and associated psychological characteristics, The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 283 – 290.
Hausenblas, H, & Symons Downs, D., 2002, How much is too much? The development and validation of the exercise dependent scale, Psychology and Health, Vol. 17, No.4, pp. 387 – 404.
Berczik, K., Szabo, A., Griffiths, M., Kurimay, T., Bernadette, K., Urban, R. et al. 2012, Exercise addiction: symptoms, Diagnosis, Epidemiology, and Etiology, Substance Use & Misuse, Vol. 47. No. 4, pp. 403-4:17.
Runners world article: Are you addicted to Running? April 14th 2015 by Nicole Radziszewski
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