Too much of a good thing?

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re already pretty physically active, and you’re not down the pub most nights, nipping out for frequent fag breaks and finishing off the evening with kebab and chips, so pat yourself on the back for being ahead of the game!

But while you do that, try and spare a thought for folk who struggle to make positive lifestyle changes despite the torrent of health messages. While it’s true that some people simply aren’t interested in becoming fitter and healthier, many more people are, but face an uphill battle with cravings and even addictions.

The word ‘addict’ is pretty emotive and tends to conjure images of hard-drug users injecting heroin, but in reality it’s much more encompassing. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the fact or condition of being physically or psychologically dependant on a particular substance or activity”. And it just so happens that people who are otherwise extremely fit and healthy can easily become addicts – addicted to exercise – with damaging consequences to their health and well being.


Are you an addict?

Here’s a question for you: are you simply committed to your sport and exercise, or are you addicted? This is a topic we have recently discussed at length in Peak Performance. As sports psychologist Dr Adam Nicholls explains, exercise is important to those who are committed but not a central part of their lives. Conversely, addicted exercisers tend to exercise for intrinsic motives (ie losing weight, changing their appearance etc), view exercise as being central to their lives, and experience many undesirable symptoms when they are unable to exercise. More worryingly, the transition from ‘committed’ to ‘addicted’ is all too easy to make – a transition that can not only harm health and performance, but seriously disrupt other aspects of life.

The bad news is that it’s surprisingly easy to cross that line – something I can personally relate too. As an aspiring distance runner and triathlete in my 20s, exercise and training took over my life until I was only ever contented if I’d clocked up at least 300 miles of cycling, 70 miles of running and 20,000 metres of swimming per week. Even though I was constantly ill and injured and my family and work life took a very back seat, I simply couldn’t contemplate life with less training – I was well and truly addicted!

The good news according to Dr Nicholls is that if you are addicted, there are proven strategies that can help athletes to overcome addiction, and by doing so, actually perform better and achieve greater sporting prowess. And (hopefully) if you aren’t, there’s more good news because it’s possible to assess your risk of crossing the line from committed to addicted and make adjustments to your training and lifestyle to reduce that risk. We like to think we’re different from the couch potato brigade, but it turns out that exercise and training are like so many other enjoyable things in life; just because some is good, it doesn’t mean that more is better!

Andrew Hamilton Peak Performance editor

 You can read more about exercise addiction and strategies to make sure you don’t cross the line in Dr Nicholls’ article below:


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