Extreme exercise may be physically addicting, according to new research. Scientists found that rats given a drug that produces withdrawal in heroin addicts went into withdrawal after running excessively in exercise wheels - and the rats that ran the hardest had the most severe withdrawal symptoms.
The scientists who conducted the study believe that if excessive exercise is addicting, then perhaps, to feel good, addicts could take moderate exercise instead of drugs. The findings also shed light on the potentially fatal eating disorder called anorexia athletica, in which exercise undertaken to shed pounds becomes as compulsive as taking drugs, resulting in even greater weight loss.
"As with food intake and other parts of life, moderation seems to be the key. Exercise, as long as it doesn't interfere with other aspects of one's life, is a good thing with respect to both physical and mental health," said study author Robin Kanarek, of Tufts University.
Insights into behaviors that trigger the release of the brain's "reward" chemicals may lead to addiction treatments that incorporate moderate exercise, according to the researchers. The findings also suggest that active rats given limited food may make a good experimental model for studying and developing treatments for anorexia athletica, the study notes.
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Source: American Psychological Association