Sunday, June 28, 2009

That Itchy-Twitchy Feeling

Addicted to exercise: Am I or not?

It's a question I've frequently asked myself over the last 15 years or so, sometimes more often than others. Especially when I didn't miss a day of exercise (bare minimum: a 30-minute sweat session) for more than six years straight. Yup, more than 2,000 days with no rest for the weary. (If this sounds vaguely familiar, you might have read one of my two articles about The Streak, as I called it--one in Conde Nast Sports for Women, and one post-Streak in HERS.) Even when I was in the midst of The Streak, I was convinced I wasn't addicted, just perhaps a wee bit obsessed. I finally broke The Streak on a three-month, around-the-world trip Jack and I took as newlyweds in 2000. I figured it was more important to return home with a husband rather than a high VO2 max or buff biceps.

While training for my last two marathons, I did fine on the rest days built into my training schedule. I didn't get antsy--not in my body, but more importantly, not in my brain. No nagging voice telling me I'd become a sloth if I didn't exercise for a day. So I hadn't had an "addicted or not?" thought in a while, but then today I started wondering again. Last night, I flew cross-country--three flights, ugh!--with the three kids and Jack to see my family in Connecticut. My plan all along was to do a Sunday-type workout on Saturday (I did a repeat of last Sunday's run up Terwilliger then swam for 50 minutes), then take today as a rest day.

Except when we arrived at my parents' house, despite feeling grotty from fractured, plane-seat sleep, I immediately started thinking I should go for a run. To shake the legs out, get the blood flowing, enjoy the fresh air, soak in the excitement of being on vacation with my family...and not sink into slothdom. Even as I type this, I'm still contemplating going on that run--and debating what qualifies as an exercise "addiction." What's the dividing line between dedication and disease?

I'd love to hear from you, especially as I'm writing about the topic this week for Dimity's and my book. Thanks.



Anonymous said...

Exercise for me is defined only and simply as something that I hope to do regularly with my other routines in the day.

Coffee? Morning Paper? Run? Yoga? Feeding the kids their breakfast?

I doubt it will ever become a disease for me ... I don't think I have enough time in the day to give it that dedication (read : obsession)

I think vacation or time away from your normal surroundings can sometimes give you an easier push out the door to go run ...

I think when it interferes with your family/plans/memories maybe it's an addiction? When you're choosing that over more important things?

Will be interested to see others' comments.

Katie A. said...

As with any disease, if you can see that it is interupting your life in a negative way and keeping you from doing things that are more important, i.e. taking care of kids, home, etc., then it does become an addiction, a disease. But if you can balance it all out, make it a priority instead of an obession, then the line has not been crossed.
Me, on the other hand, know that I have been in that dangerous territory before, where you litterally drive yourself nuts until you get that endorphine release from a good sweat.
Good luck with the article! said...

I think we runners have such a strong relationship with hitting the road or train or's just as much a part of us as breathing & when we miss a work-out, it's hard emotionally. I know for me I need 5-6 workouts a week. I usually plan for M-F & off on weekends. Sometimes I have to tweak that schedule if my week gets messed up! Also, when I plan on running & it doesn't happen, I'm not happy, with myself or with other people. So, it's important to get it out of the way EARLY b/c as us moms know, the day brings all sorts of unexpected surprises! Have fun on vacation! You are NOT a sloth!!! :) Oh, and when I'm on vacation with my family, I try to put running out of my mind altogether. If a run happens to present itself, that's great & I take it! Sometimes that doesn't happen, though...P.S. Running is a sweet addiction! Free & legal... said...

oops, my bad - that should be road, TRAIL or treadmill! : )

Saphi said...

I agree with those who previously commented that as long as it's not negatively impacting your life and your relationship with others, it's a fantastic and important (if not a necessary) element to have.

Later this summer, I will be taking a trip to Barcelona with my girlfriends and definitely plan on getting my runs in. I can't wait to see how the city looks and feels while everyone slumbers! And it's a great way to balance out the abundance of food and drinks that I will be consuming.

MJ said...

A book - great, looking forward to it!

Addiction - nope. (you brush your teeth every day, right? probably don't think of that as an addiction, but if you skipped it, you'd get twitchy) We were made to move, every day. Our bodies work better that way. and you're used to it now, so physically (muscles, chemicals) and psychologically you feel unsettled and out of your routine if you skip it. People used to be much more active because they had to be. But as time has gone on, our lives have become more sedentary (and our age span extended) and the focus of society re exercise has been on outward appearance vs health and ability and enjoyment and accomplishment, especially for women, but it seems to be improving to include the non-cosmetic aspects (more articles, magazines, etc. to support athletic endeavors for their intrinsic worth). Daily exercise for health and sanity (as opposed to solely for vanity) is a good thing. This isn't to say that the need and the drive can't be taken too far, because anything can. Maybe you'll find you don't need to do a full-on workout that's in a training plan every day, just something that as you said, makes you sweat. If you're not hurting yourself or making priority decisions you regret, why not every day?

SeaBreeze said...

I think a 6-year stint maybe an addiction. Have you ever checked out Charlotte's Blog that focus' on this alot?

Personally, I workout rain or shine. Preferably, twice a day. My back hurt yesterday and I went for a run to fix it and it worked, but wasn't the doctor advised solution.

Jen C. said...

For me, an obsession is something I think about excessively or talk about excessively- doesn't have to be something you DO excessively. I'm obsessed with the need to have my house clean, laundry done, fun time with the kids, exercise, etc..and I drive myself bonkers striving for it- however, I never really fit it all in;something always has to give, right? And I still stay sane- I just 'obsess over it'... An addiction would be something you choose that you really can't be happy/complete/content/etc..without. My obsessions over things don't make me UNHAPPY; I just constantly try to figure out how to do it all. Obviously, like another poster said- you brush your teeth everyday, but that isn't classified as either addiction or obsession... however, when you choose an activity- working out, shopping, etc.. that makes you feel awful when you can't do it, then perhaps that withdrawal is moving you into addiction territory...
Dunno- everyone has his/her own interpretation of boundaries!:)

shel said...

if you are addicted, what of it? you could be addicted to worse things.
but really, this is the way i see it: we were created (or we evolved if you rather)to work hard. life, for our ancestors, heck even 100 years ago was infinitely more difficult and labor intensive. think of what a woman had to do to get everyone up and dressed and fed, and clean and gardens tended etc. the long walk to the well for water, carrying it home. heating the wood fire to the right temperature to boil the water. grinding wheat to make flour to make bread.. make the families clothes. on and on and on. life is so easy for us now, but we are MADE, programmed to work hard. your desire to exercise is your body rebelling against sloth and decay. it craves hard work, and you feed that craving. nothing wrong with that, in fact the rest of the world would be wise to tap in to that need as well.
as long as exercise and sport don't take the place of caring for your family and their needs, and executing your job if you contribute to the bills etc, then there is no reason to fret. training for sport is YOUR time. if you need you time everyday to feel good then you take it unashamedly!

ZeroToBoston said...

I am not addicted to running. I can stop any time I want.

I don't care what the folks at the "intervention" said. They're just a bunch of lazy meddlers.

- Dean