Running Addiction: How Exercise Can Become an Unhealthy Obsession
Running is one of the most popular recreational athletic activities around. In fact, about 49.5 million people are active runners or joggers in the United States, according to a 2019 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
While running can present numerous overall benefits for your body — from cardiovascular to mental health — an obsessive, unrelenting approach to running can pose severe risks.
A new study out of Australia looks at the increase in physical injury that can result from an addiction to running. As with any other addiction, a running addiction is when a person develops an almost compulsive obsession with the sport.
Running addiction is more common than you may think
“It is actually a bit more common than one would think,” Dr. Brian Feeley, a professor in residence and chief of sports medicine and shoulder surgery in the department of orthopedic surgery at University of California, San Francisco, told Healthline when asked about running addiction.
It found that 8 percent of these people had a risk for exercise addiction. He says this study revealed that loneliness and anxiety might lead to “uncontrolled behavior” that in turn leads to increased exercise in amateur runners, for instance.
Psychological and emotional boost that can come from a running workout, the running boom that started in the 1980s and continues today has seen more and more novices signing up for 5Ks, half-marathons, and full marathons, says Carter, who wasn’t affiliated with the study.
The risk of injury
Feeley and Carter both outline some of the most common injuries that can be tied to excessive running.
Top of the list are stress fractures, or tiny cracks in a bone that are caused by overuse and repetitive force, according to Mayo Clinic.
These are more common in younger women. Patients can have hip, tibia, or foot stress fractures, which can occur due to high volumes of training.
Hip stress fractures will certainly bring a runner into an operating room, she adds, where pins or screws will be put into the hip to prevent a complete fracture.
Ways to embrace healthier behaviors
Carter says aesthetic athletes and competitive runners tend to underfuel, not giving their bodies the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
This can be especially pronounced in people who develop an addiction to running.
Underfueling-induced energy deficiencies can cause hormonal changes for women — they might lose their periods — and men, who might experience low testosterone levels. It also leads to fatigue and lack of energy.
For the average runner, they need not worry. Most people who run are going to enjoy the many positive effects of running, without the addictive problems.