Exercise Addiction: Chasing the Dopamine High

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Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham crawl to the finish line at the 1997 Ironman

In a day and age where extremes seem to be the norm, rarely do I find someone that I know personally that exercises moderately for their mental, physical, and spiritual well being. Just about everyone I have met in the climbing and mountaineering, road cycling, running, swimming, and XC ski communities tend to exercise or “train” at the extreme or sharp end of their chosen sport or recreational activity.

Keep in mind that the majority of the aforementioned are at least in their forties now and would be considered master-aged athletes. Some are incredibly gifted physically and appear to excel at their chosen sporting endeavor. The majority are just ordinary middle-of-the-road “pack filler”, yet they train and race in their age-group or skill level categories like they are world class athletes. They are addicted to exercise and the dopamine highs that come with it. Their stated reasons for participating in extreme endurance sport are varied, but if work and/or family responsibilities, injury, or illness prevent them from exercising daily, they are often miserable, anxious, and a bear to be around socially or otherwise. That dopamine high – the heightened sense of well-being and feeling alive rapidly diminishes. For many, depression is not far behind.

How did I come to recognize this in others? Because I am just as guilty as they are for chasing the proverbial dopamine-on-a-stick so prevalent in endurance sports today. Our sporting clubs are almost like destructive religious cults where we literally celebrate the extreme and those individuals that accomplish the extraordinary. Every ride, every run has to be of “epic” proportions to be worthy of our praise. The bar is set higher and higher and we move from marathon challenges into the realm of ultra marathon distances. If one has not gone on a four to five hour 100+ kilometre ride over the weekend, one’s efforts are not deemed worthy of attention, let alone celebration. This is borderline insanity and we have social media sites like Strava to prove it.

Over a period of many years, I have repeatedly asked medical doctors and other specialists how much exercise is necessary to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Invariably, their response is typically ” about thirty minutes of moderate activity per day“. Keep in mind that several of these physicians are endurance athletes themselves and are just as addicted to the dopamine highs as the rest of us. Perhaps we need to heed the warnings of the medical community, and the studies of psychologists and psychiatrists about exercise addiction and the long-term consequences of abusing our bodies in our pursuit of exercise nirvana.

A number of months ago a friend suggested to me that I should consider participating in sport in a “manner that is suitable for my age“. At first I felt insulted and wondered if this was just another criticism from someone that may be living a rather sedentary lifestyle. It is that group that I am most concerned about, as the medical clinics and hospitals of our nation are filled with people who suffer from diseases that predominantly originate from inactive lifestyles and poor food choices and eating habits – the opposite extreme of exercise addiction.

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Walking – a healthy alternative to extreme endurance sport. Ā© 2017. Bruce Kraus. All rights reserved.

The answer, of course, to the aforementioned dilemma is moderation in all things. If we want to be truly healthy in mind, body, and spirit, we need to make positive choices that will benefit us in the long term. It was the off-the-cuff remark of a friend that has caused me to re-evalute what it truly means to be healthy and to take positive steps to wean myself off of the pursuit of dopamine highs through extreme exercise. Addiction is addiction, no matter which way the ball curves. There is no such thing as a healthy addiction in the true sense of the word.

The extremes that we see in just about every aspect of life today reminds me of how broken humanity really is and how far removed we are from our Creator and His loving intentions for our lives. We really are living in an upside-down world.

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Canada Day: The Aftermath

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Canada Day aftermath. Garbage that was tossed into Wascana Lake washes up near the Albert Street Bridge. The green water is from algae bloom.

I was considerably disappointed with the numerous people that discarded their garbage all over Wascana Park during the Canada Day celebrations. Even two days later there was garbage seen floating on the lake and strewn all over the lawn and forested areas, often just a few feet from a garbage bin.

I cannot speak for everyone, but many of us were taught from an early age to avoid littering and to pack out what we brought in – at the very least to use the garbage cans that are conveniently situated all over the park.

We may have one of the largest and most beautiful inner city parks in North America (created and maintained with our tax dollars), but that does not entitle Regina and area citizens to dispose of their garbage wherever they want, expecting others to clean up the mess they left behind.

This apparent disregard for the environment can lead to public health and safety issues further on down the line. Please consider the long-term consequences of your actions and stop littering.

I was surprised when I discovered that individuals can be fined up to $2000 dollars and corporations up to $5000 dollars for violating park statutes. For further information, please refer to Parks and Open Space Bylaw Number 2004-27. Thank you.

Anti-Littering

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Commuting by Bicycle to Work: Heart Disease and Cancer Reduced by 50%

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Healthy Hearts Matter

Well OK then…this is good news. Now if we can only get our Queen City to improve cycling infrastructure on our streets and major business to provide showers and secure places to lock up our bikes. Perhaps a tax break and other incentives from the province for improving our health and staying out of the already clogged medical system. A society dominated by Big Oil and the automobile only contributes to the declining health of an aging population in Canada.

Here was my “commute” yesterday šŸ˜‰

#healthyheartsmatter

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Age Creep: One Day or Another its Going to Get You…

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The epic ride…that was “fun”, I have to go home now and ingest a bottle of Ā aspirin.

creep |krēp|

(creep in/into) (of an unwanted and negative characteristic or fact) occur or develop gradually and almost imperceptibly: errors crept into his game | (as adjective creeping) : the creeping centralization of power.
ā€¢ (creep up) increase slowly but steadily in number or amount: interest rates have been creeping up in the past few weeks.

I would like to discuss a certainty for all of us. We all age and we will all eventually die. There is no other polite way to put this – aging and death are inevitable for each one of us. It does not matter what religion or ideology one subscribes too – we will all experience death. The differences or even arguments over our respective religions andĀ ideologiesĀ are often based on our views of the afterlife more so than in the present.

Continue reading “Age Creep: One Day or Another its Going to Get You…”

The Blurred Mind

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A Migraine Perspective

As some of you may know, both my spouse and myself are teetotalers, in a day and age when just about everyone we know drinks alcohol socially. There are others who smoke pot to numb their senses. Even as followers of Christ, my position or conviction on alcohol and recreational drugs is not necessarily based on the notions of the early Temperance Movement and/or some form of legalistic interpretation of the Scriptures. Yes, drunkenness and being stoned out of our minds on some sort of recreational or prescription drug (with a few exceptions) is considered morally and ethically wrong in the Scripture. Just do a simple word search on fools and foolishness in the Book of Proverbs.

Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. Proverbs 20:1

Abuse of anything mind altering often leads to personal and societal tragedy in both the short term and theĀ long run.

Although both my wife and myself have drank wine at social dinner occasions and wine at Communion services, our general outlook and practice is still the same – we abstain from alcohol, recreational drugs, etc., as a general rule.

I cannot speak for my spouse and her reason(s) for abstinence. My reason(s) are pretty basic. I grew up in a home where my father abused alcohol to the point of rage and violence. I still have emotional and physical scars from those early years. For me, toĀ consume alcohol on a regular basis is like playing with unstable explosives. My siblings and IĀ are walking time bombs that could go off at any time. Most of my siblings have learned their lessons well after our rather disruptive and rebellious teenage years. Those who have not, managed to ruinĀ their lives in whole or in part. The string of broken relationships, and the failure to establish a meaningful and sustaining work life and/or career are clear signs of the familial effects of alcoholism and/or alcohol dependency and drug addiction doing its insidious and destructive work.

My second, and more pressing reason for NOTĀ consuming alcohol is because I take prescription medication(s) to alleviate an ongoing medical problem. Have you ever suffered from migraine headaches, especially the painless kind where you experienceĀ a loss of vision? You may know what I mean – the lack of depth and colour perception, and the annoying jagged or electrical fuzzies around your peripheral vision that increase to the point of developing tunnel vision. The solution is rather simple – go into a dark room, close your eyes, and rest for about thirty minutes. Simple right? Well, not really. When this happens at work, at a social occasion, or even driving – at best, it is a huge inconvenience. Neurologists are still puzzled by the inner workings of migraines and the diverse visual and other disruptive sensory distortionsĀ people experience. In my particular case it is probably related to six minor concussions (mostly related to sports) over my lifetime – the jury is still out on this one.

As you can see from the above picture, that is more or less what I see when a migraine comes on. The loss of colour perception, blurring (usually jagged and lightening bolt-like), and tunnel vision seems to be theĀ norm during painless migraines.

As a visual artist, the gradual lossĀ of sight due to the ageing process, and the intermittent migraines are a pain-in-the-butt. The hindered ability to do fine detailed work of any kind without reading glasses and some sort of magnification is a little disheartening. As one who had super vision (20/15) most of my life, this is a hard pill to swallow. You know you are getting older when you use a MacBook or iPad overĀ some sort of cell phone to post your status on FaceBook or write an article on WordPress šŸ˜‰

#LoveLife

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