When sport becomes addictive

Regular exercise keeps the body up to speed and is the best protection against civilization diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated blood lipid levels. "Two to three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes of endurance sports, that's recommended, " says Dr. Robert Gugutzer of the chair of sports psychology of the TU Munich. But some athletes gradually lose all sense of the amount of exercise that is good for the body and does not hurt.

Sports addiction and their symptoms

Run through the park for 20 kilometers before breakfast, lifting weights during lunch break and in the evening skating with friends - if they can even compete. "Recreational athletes who train for more than an hour a day must listen carefully to their bodies, " says Gugutzer. "Pain that indicates overloads and signs of wear must be taken seriously, " advises the sports scientist.

Even if sports addiction does not (yet) exist as an independent diagnosis, physicians define it as follows: a desire-like longing for exercise without competitive ambitions. This manifests itself in uncontrolled, excessive training behavior and leads to physical and emotional complaints. Overall, the sports addiction is quite rare. According to estimates, about one percent of recreational athletes is addicted to exercise. Popular sports in fitness maniacs are running, cycling, triathlon, but also bodybuilding and weight training.

Why is sport addictive?

Drugs are not involved in sports addiction, unlike some other addictions, unless the athlete dopt. For a long time experts believed that the body's own hormones of happiness (endorphins) could be responsible for sports addiction. Because under extreme stress, the body spills out the body's own drugs to control pain and endure extreme stress.

Although US scientists at the University of Richmond found that the concentration of the body's own beta-endorphin increased after 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, there was no correlation between the amount of endorphin in the blood and a dependency on constant physical activity. Sports psychologist Professor Oliver Stoll from the Institute of Sports Science of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg proved that even relaxation training leads to an increase in endorphin levels in the blood. The happiness hormones are therefore not demonstrably responsible for the addiction.

Stoll and his colleagues were more likely to suspect that the distraction of everyday problems in the development of sports addiction plays a role. With heavy physical effort, the athletes focus only on the here and now. This turns off your thoughts and sweeps aside everyday problems for the time of training. A condition that athletes want to have again and again. Not otherwise works a drug. Thus, the athletes run the risk of only living in physical activity.

Escapism as a cause of sports addiction

But experts suspect other factors than the flight from reality. The physical exertion could reduce the anxiety. For this theory speaks that sports addicts are rather unsafe people. "With good athletic performance, they raise their self-esteem and compensate for the frustrations they experience elsewhere, " says sports scientist Gugutzer.

In addition, after the big drag, a relaxation effect begins. On the soul life this acts like a drug. "We researchers are unclear what effect contributes most to sports addiction, " said Professor Tom Hildebrandt of the Institute for Eating and Weight Control at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. All answers might be correct, but there is no specific data.

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