Major contention of this countermovement was that running is detrimental because it is “addictive” (Sachs & Pargman, 1984). For the remainder of this post we will consider the arguments surrounding “running addiction.”
Researchers have described the criteria that should be fulfilled for a diagnosis of “exercise dependence” (de Coverley Veale, 1987). One definition states that addiction occurs when involvement in an activity eliminates choice in all areas of life. On this basis, an addiction must be distinguished from a habit, commitment, or compulsion, none of which exclude all other activities. My experience is that a great majority of runners are not addicted to the extent that running completely dominates all other aspects of their lives. Rather, I believe that running fits the description of a compulsion and that the term addiction is inappropriate.
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We should also note that society is selective in its judgment of compulsion. As James Fixx (1980) noted, “Practically no one, after all, uses the word addiction when referring to people who spend inordinate amounts of time making money, playing at politics, or pursuing the opposite sex” (p. 41). Fixx suggested that these activities may be even more hazardous than “spending a quiet hour or
Two in a park or on a country road” (p. 41). But we should not allow Fixx’s masterful English to disguise the possibility that running in a park for up to 2 hours a day could in fact be as much a behavior disorder as working 12 or more hours a day.
A feature of an addictive state is that withdrawal symptoms develop when the addict cannot partake of the addiction. Two authors have described the withdrawal symptoms that they consider indicative of running’s addictive nature. W.P. Morgan (1979) listed the following array of withdrawal symptoms:
Depression and anxiety are usually accompanied by restlessness, insomnia and generalized fatigue. Tics, muscle tension and soreness, decreased appetite and constipation or irregularity often develop. In general, the benefits of vigorous exercise are reversed . Exercise addicts give their daily run(s) higher priority than job, family, or friends. They run first, and then if time permits, they work, love, and socialize. And, they often exercise to the point where overuse injuries have near crippling effects, the pain becomes intolerable, and they search for the perfect shoe, orthotic, injection, or psychological strategy that will enable them to run (‘shoot up’) again, (p. 59)
Sacks (1981) noted that running addiction usually starts during a period of increased emotional stress. In this regard, running is especially attractive because it is an easy skill to acquire and therefore provides a simple and rapid solution to emotional distress.
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