“Exercise addiction” could prove fatal

Updated - October 23, 2009 07:15 pm IST

Published - October 23, 2009 02:29 pm IST - New Delhi

Youngsters are going all out to work out, not knowing how much time they should spend and what is good or bad for them. File Photo: Nagara Gopal

Youngsters are going all out to work out, not knowing how much time they should spend and what is good or bad for them. File Photo: Nagara Gopal

The six-pack or the eight-pack abs of Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan may look mighty impressive but it’s inspiring many youngsters to pump iron without being aware that this “exercise addiction” could prove fatal. This week two people in India were victims of “exercise addiction”.

Forty-two year-old Ranjan Das, the youngest CEO in the country, collapsed with a massive cardiac arrest after working out in his in-house gym in Mumbai, while in Jaipur a young aspiring model died while working out at the treadmill at a gym. Both were described as fitness freaks.

According to M.S. Bhatia, who heads the Department of Psychiatry at the G.T.B. Hospital here, cases of people addicted to exercise are growing. Most are young men.

“We get so many cases these days. With the thrust on body, appearance and fitness, plus copying Bollywood stars and ramp models, youngsters are going all out to work out, not knowing how much time they should spend and what is good or bad for them,” Bhatia told IANS.

“We have seen patients who have become so addicted to physical activity that they engage in compulsive, excessive exercise,” Bhatia, who along with others wrote about the growing phenomenon in the Delhi Psychiatry Journal, said.

He said this compulsion is described as “exercise addiction” as physical activity “significantly interferes with important activities, occurs at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings or when the individual continues to exercise despite injury or other medical complications.”

Bhatia said recently a young executive came to them with “muscle fracture”. “He complained of physical exhaustion, fever, withdrawal symptoms and lethargy. He didn’t want to work, had sleepless nights. He had the typical symptoms of depression. Despite these problems, he didn’t want to leave exercising,” he said.

“He was exercising beyond his capacity. His muscles had become weak due to this. He was on steroids because he had skin problem. All this contributed to his feeling depressed. But he never left exercising,” Bhatia said, adding that they had to prescribe an anti-depressant.

But it is just not depression or obsession, it means hormonal changes too. “It also means hormonal changes like decreased testosterone in men and increased production of cortisol (produced in response to stress). Among women, there is an increased risk of stress fractures and osteoporosis. Menstrual cycle of girls may get altered,” he added.

Also, there would be instances of damaged tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage and joints. “Behavioural changes like increased anxiety, inability to relax or rest are some other symptoms of this,” he said.

He said people should look out for warning signs. “One should see whether they are exercising for more than two hours daily repeatedly, always following the same rigid exercise pattern, working out alone, fixated on weight loss or calories, exercising to the point of pain, exercising when sick or injured or skipping work, class or social plans for workouts,” Bhatia told IANS.

“It is said that one percent of the population suffers from exercise addiction and this percentage is higher among elite runners, competitive power lifters, endurance athletes and obsessive gym goers,” he added.

Anubha Verma, 27, is one such case. She is obsessed with exercising since college days. “Initially, it was a stress buster, but soon it became a lot more,” she told IANS. Now, every day, she does the treadmill and runs for an hour. She has also bought gadgets like a tummy twister and aerobics mats. “I just can’t do without exercising. I know I am obsessive, but I can’t help it,” Ms. Verma said.

Bhatia has a word of caution. “People should from time to time review their exercise regime. They should see that they are not overdoing it and not beyond their capacity.” “It is fine to exercise, but not that much that it overtakes your life or proves dangerous,” he said.

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