Vail Daily column: Identifying exercise addiction |

Vail Daily column: Identifying exercise addiction

The history of Vail has been richly immersed in mountain lifestyle. At 8150 feet in elevation, Vail and Beaver Creek are arguably two of the best ski resorts in the world, and our community embraces the dogma of being active in all of the activities that the landscape provides. I once heard a local man say that “one must train extremely hard in Vail to be average.” He was right on the money as this proving ground hosts a plethora of world class athletes that compete in skiing, adventure racing, running, cycling, snowshoeing, kayaking, climbing, etc. However, the active lifestyle most of us live can provide more stimulus than necessary, sabotaging our health due to exercise addiction.

Overtraining is worn as a badge of honor and somehow proves that we are accepted as fit, tough and healthy. The truth is, exercising to excess is worse than not exercising at all. I would rather have the health status of an individual who is slightly overweight, doesn’t exercise at all, maintains a low stress level, is overfilled with happiness and eats a balanced diet than that of an exercise addict.


I have worked with people who suffer from exercise addiction, and it isn’t so pretty. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

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• A dependence on exercise in daily life to achieve euphoria.

• Missing workouts causing dysfunction in one’s daily life.

• Withdrawal symptoms following exercise deprivation including anxiety, restlessness, depression, guilt, tension, discomfort, loss of appetite, sleeplessness and headaches.

• Exercising through pain and medical conditions.

• Interference with daily life such as missing social events because of exercise habits.

• An unhealthy relationship with food and a misaligned body image.

How many of you living here in the Vail Valley demonstrate these behaviors? I would wager a vast majority of the people living here who are active exhibit at least a few of these behaviors. Not only is excessive exercise psychologically detrimental, it causes serious soft tissue overuse injuries and may lead to other serious physical consequences. Mike Sheridan, author of “Live It Not Diet,” said, “The oxygen demands during aerobic exercise produce considerable damage within muscle cells that leads to eventual cell death. Essentially, the muscle cells are “oxidized,” and once destroyed they unfortunately can’t be replaced. Research from as early as 1987 has suggested that free radical damage from long and frequent cardio workouts is especially detrimental to cardiac and skeletal muscle.”

Dr. James O’Keefe, the director of the Preventative Cardiology Fellowship Program states, “endurance training causes structural cardiovascular changes and elevations of cardiac biomarkers that appear to return to normal in the short term, but when taken on as a regular activity results in patchy myocardial fibrosis, an increased susceptibility to atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening.”

Moreover, recent research of Dr. Martin Matsumura, co-director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who studied 3,800 male and female high mileage runners, found that high-mileage runners tend to have a shorter life span than moderate mileage runners. He ruled out cardiac risk and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as risk factors.

There will be those who disagree with this contention. I will be the first to tell you up front that I have a confirmation bias towards intense strength training versus logging long hours on the pavement. Exercise addiction runs rampant in the gym culture as well though, and I’m not turning a blind eye to that. The bottom line is that exercise addiction regardless of the type is a behavioral issue that runs deeper than just wanting to be healthy and fit. If you want optimal performance and longevity, perform resistance training a few days per week, get plenty of rest, eat right, reduce your stress and enjoy cardio respiratory exercise in moderation. In O’Keefe’s view, the “sweet spot” for jogging for health benefits is a slow to moderate pace, about two or three times per week, for a total of one to 2.5 hours. “If you want to run a marathon,” he said, “run one and cross it off your bucket list.” But as a general rule, O’Keefe advises runners to avoid strenuous exercise for more than an hour at a time.

For exercise addiction, help can be found with therapy, support from friends and family, and behavior modification. If you think you are experiencing exercise addiction, see a physician. Stay safe out there!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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