Body Health or Body Image
With this push toward more time in the gym, you could make a case there are underlying motivators other than just health. While going to the gym offers many health benefits, we see that there are also other unwanted factors such as compulsive exercise or severe critique of one’s body image. The physiological advantages of working out can often take over a person’s life as they are addicted to these results. This is relatable to anorexia nervosa where a person associates the act of starving themselves with the result of looking “better”. At the start these two mindsets have positive goals such as losing some weight toning up the body, however those who struggle with excessive exercise can run their bodies into the ground from always chasing this look of lean muscle.
That being said, it is tough to distinguish what determines an exercise addiction. According to “Compulsive Exercise,” “The amount of weekly exercise is not an indicator of compulsive patterns, as the definition states that it is the physical, psychological, and social harm resulting from the exercise that is important.” Therefore, simply working out extremely often does not automatically categorize you as someone with compulsive exercise addiction. There needs to be a correlation between the amount you are working out and the reason or motivation behind it. For many, working out is a hobby and something that acts as a routine activity. However, it becomes a problem when someone is working out because they feel if they do not that they will not, in their eyes, look physically attractive. This is where energy can be depleted, increased stress on the heart, chronic injury and many others occur. In the case of repeated exercise, your body is not able to recover which can be detrimental long term. A study was conducted on marathon runners to compare their blood samples against an average person’s. Heart Risk Associated With Extreme Exercise found that biomarkers associated with heart damage were in the samples of the long distance runners. These are able to be naturally repaired after some time, but if continued you can permanently scar your heart. Research related to these studies also suggest that sudden cases of cardiac arrest were associated with over exercising. Exercise can also be very counterintuitive. Many seek the benefits of exercise which are increased energy and blood flow throughout the day, which can help to be more productive and to feel better. However, when over exercising a common occurrence is completely burning yourself out which in turn stops you from exercising. What a lot of people who struggle with this addiction will then do is when they get back they try to go even harder to make up for lost time, but then find themselves in a vicious cycle of trying to stay healthy.
Moreover, just as we see people trying to slim down through cardiovascular exercise we also see the opposite in muscle dysmorphia. Bodybuilding is something that has become increasingly popular since the golden age somewhere between the 50’s and 70’s. This has inspired many young adults to become infatuated with sculpting their bodies. This however, can be taken much too far. In a state of what many call “reverse anorexia” an individual will try to get their muscles as big and toned as possible. In the article Is Bodybuilding a Disorder, they refer to this issue saying, “People who suffer from anorexia believe they are too big, while bodybuilders believe they are too small… both of which affect their perception of their body image.” Both of these are just as dangerous, because if not treated they could do serious damage to internal organs. This dysmorphia through exercise is also mentally taxing as many cases show that individuals will cut out their family, careers and other interests in order to satisfy their desire to be physically appealing.