Exercise & Activity

Anyone needs a fair amount of exercise to give the body a decent chance to feel good.

If you are getting little or no exercise, your body will adjust, efficiently, to what it assumes is your preparation for death. For all human history, until the last century or so, slowing down of physical activity meant getting ready to die, and that is how the body reacts: the metabolism slows down, the muscles atrophy, and life loses its zest.

Healthy Exercise

A healthy amount of exercise or physical activity tells the body that we are very much alive and part of life. Activity decreases depression and many negative feelings. For weight management, exercise alone is far more effective than diet alone.

Categories of Activity

Catharine Stewart-Roache and Marvel Harrison (1989) have written a delightful book on physical fitness that can give you many helpful suggestions. They integrate emotional and spiritual factors into the ideas they present. They provide many helpful guidelines for developing your personal activity program. They give four categories of activities you might consider pursuing:

Flexibility Flexibility exercises include activities like stretching and dance. These are relaxing, improve balance and posture, and help with back and joint difficulties.

Strengthening Strengthening exercises are anaerobic (not aerobic). Lifting weights and calisthenics are examples. Pushing or pulling against resistance increases muscle tone, causing you to feel better. If you are out of shape, increasing muscle mass will also make weight management easier, because muscle tissue uses more energy than fat does.

Skill building Sports, such as tennis, football, skiing, bowling, and other recreational activities, build skills. They help with coordination and balance, offer the opportunity to be sociable, and are fun!

Aerobic Cycling, swimming, walking, running, and aerobic dance classes are important for developing a healthy heart and lungs. When your pulse increases and you breathe faster than usual, you are exercising your respiratory and circulatory system. Aerobic activities are continuous (not stop-and-start), have rhythm, use large muscle groups, and can be done by a healthy person for at least twenty minutes. They also burn more fat than other activities.


Exercise increases metabolism, allowing you to burn more carbohydrates and to feel better. Many recent studies suggest that this increase in metabolism persists for hours after the exercise is done.

Unfortunately, even a good thing can be done to excess, and addicts are great at doing things to excess. The chemicals the brain manufactures during heavy exercise can become addictive. Professionals speculate that with the emphasis on looking robust and healthy, exercise addiction will become more common in the years ahead.

There are no recognized diagnostic criteria for exercise abuse. William Rader, MD, (in an article by Bill Dobbins, “Exercise Addicts,” Muscle cmd Fitness, September 1988, pp. 110-12, 200-2) indicated some possible signs of exercise addiction:

  • You exercise while injured or ill.
  • Exercise comes ahead of family and friends.
  • You exercise when it isn’t fun anymore.
  • You exercise even when you don’t want to.

One of the authors recalls a friend who wouldn’t take a job unless he could continue his triathlon training during work hours. He had withdrawals when he had knee surgery. He eventually lost a managerial job because of his exercising, and took a job in an athletic store.

When it is part of bulimia

When there is a clear attempt to lose weight or burn calories or fat through lots of exercise, there is a good chance of exercise addiction. This will often be combined with the “runners high” kind of phenomenon, when endorphins (painkillers) are produced after about thirty minutes of rigorous exercise.

The Thermic Effect of Exercise

Most approaches to weight loss include some form of exercise, to burn some (not too many) calories, and more important, to “stoke the metabolic furnace” and to improve physical and psychological health. Exercise is a key to long-term weight management.

Weight Gain

Some people actually gain weight when they exercise. Start-stop, largely anaerobic activities like calisthenics, some aerobic dance, racket sports, power lifting, and other sports that require sprinting burn about 60-70 percent carbohydrate and about 30-40 percent fat. So if in an hour of tennis you burn five hundred calories, about three hundred fifty of those will be carbohydrate and one hundred fifty from fat. If you are still eating a high-fat diet (about 40 percent of the calories from fat and 45 percent from carbohydrate), you will probably eat about three hundred ten fat calories with the three hundred fifty carbohydrate calories you eat to restore your previous glycogen level. You will have eaten one hundred sixty more calories of fat than you burned in the exercise!

With aerobic activity, on the other hand, if you walk briskly (four miles per hour) for an hour, you will burn 50-60 percent fat and 40-50 percent carbohydrate. If you expend four hundred calories, you will burn around two hundred forty fat calories and one hundred sixty carbohydrate calories. Replacing your glycogen, if you are on a low-fat diet of about 20 percent fat and 65 percent carbohydrate, you will consume only about sixty calories of fat with the one hundred sixty calories of carbohydrate.

Also, the more fit you become, the more fat you can burn, up to five times as much as when you start exercising. Continuous, aerobic activity, which does not leave you winded, is best, in a range of about thirty minutes to an hour. Anyone who needs to gain weight might try anaerobic exercise and increasing fats in the diet rather than trying to force down vast amounts of carbohydrate foods.

Keeping a Balance

Something in the range of thirty minutes of vigorous exercise, or an hour of slightly less strenuous activity, is not too much. In general, a lifestyle that includes physical activity is preferable to an exercise regimen, but anything is better than either nothing or too much.

Start slow If you have been fairly inactive physically, it is best to begin with something very light, like walking or swimming, and avoid the temptation to start out at an advanced level. If you are obese, middle-aged or older, or have any reason to question your health, you should see a physician before any significant change in your activity level. A very gradual increase is much better than an abrupt change, and it is more likely to last.

Other benefits Finding an exercise or activity you enjoy and can do regularly can greatly enhance your recovery. It is great for stress and depression and contributes to your physical health and self-esteem. Activity is most beneficial if you can see it as adding play, fun, and even joy to your life.


Exercise & activity, see also: Addiction, Adolescents, Anorexia nervosa, Arousal, Bingeing, Biochemistry, Body image, Bulimia nervosa, Chronic pain, Diet mentality, Energy levels, Excitement, Hunger & appetite, Moodifiers, Nutrition, Obesity, Prevention of addiction, Purging, Relaxation, Sleep.

Updated 6 Sep 2015

Creative Commons License
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.