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Aug. 18 2009 - 11:05 am | 61 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

When Nike becomes a narcotic: Exercise withdrawal gone extreme

Mass fitness

A posse of addicts?

Tried-and-true runners already know that exercise can be addictive. The endorphin high after a stellar double-digit run is incomparable, unless you’re into triple-digit jaunts too. But physical activity enthusiasts, convinced their addiction is purely a love of wellness, may actually be warping into downright abusers.

So says a new study on exercise addiction out of Tufts University. Researchers set out to determine whether drug addicts could be rehabbed using a moderate exercise program – essentially replacing one addiction with another,healthier one. They tested 84 rats, who either ran on exercise wheels or remained inactive, and were either fed around-the-clock or for one hour a day. All the rats were then given naloxone, a drug for heroin overdose that yields immediate withdrawal symptoms.

The uber-active rats who received the least food suffered the most extreme withdrawal symptoms: trembling, chattering teeth and drooping eyelids. The sedentary rats had nary a consequence when loaded up with naloxone, even if they were also on anorexic-esque diets. From lead study author Robin Kanarek:

“As with food intake and other parts of life, moderation seems to be the key. Exercise, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other aspects of one’s life, is a good thing with respect to both physical and mental health…Exercise, like drugs of abuse, leads to the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine, which are involved with a sense of reward.”

I’ve read a lot on exercise addiction, but never seen such a direct connection to drug dependency. The study did prove that moderate exercise could be a useful aide in narcotic rehabilitation programs. But it also highlights the dangers of extreme fitness – especially accompanied by ultra-intense diet regimens. If a weekend sans workout leaves you with the shakes and drooping eyelids, you may have a problem.

And you don’t have to be a super-freak athlete to experience the symptoms: one study found that those who hit the gym for 45 minutes, six days a week, required five days to “detox” and find a stable disposition and energy level when their workouts were eliminated.

The moral of the latest research: moderation is key. But that’s not exactly the Extreme Self mantra. If leisurely walks are the fitness world’s pot, and triathlons are the crack, I’ll take the pipe. And, apparently, suffer the consequences.


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    About Me

    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

    My first foray into journalism came in middle school - at a French-speaking plaid-kilt-wearing educational institute somewhere in the Canadian tundra. It was there that I decided to start my own newspaper, to disseminate my sarcasm and attitude problem among my peers. We lasted three issues.

    From there I started to freelance, and when I became a medium-sized fish in a small Canadian lake, I decided to move to New York, and become a spore in a vast journalistic ocean. The adventure continues.

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