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. © 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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Deep calls to deep…

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There is one thing that I have learned in life that applies to everything we do and say. That one thing is personal integrity. Integrity can be defined as follows:

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
    “he is known to be a man of integrity”
    synonyms: honesty, probity, rectitude, honor, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness

    “I never doubted his integrity”

As the reader can see, personal integrity, by definition, is one tall order that few, if any of us can claim to possess with any degree of consistency. It goes without saying that the very basis of personal integrity is predicated upon ethics and morality and is demonstrated through our own willingness to be honest, sincere, and truthful, not only with others, but with the person we look at every morning in the mirror.

I do not think it is possible for any one individual to demonstrate true integrity apart from God in our lives. We may hold to some external form of religious piety or offer lip service to integrity based on secular humanistic principles, but inwardly we are a wayward people.

The words that we speak reveal what is in our heart, and ultimately reveal our character.

In a previous post, I presented numerous examples of how people use certain words, but often mean something completely different. To recognize deceit and a lack of integrity in another individual or group is not as difficult as it may seem. One needs to simply start listening, not just with the mind, and the various auditory and visual clues of understanding communication, but with our hearts. The scripture tells us that what comes out of a person’s mouth is that which fills his or her heart.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. Luke 6:45 NLT

As a child, I was a very trusting person. Somehow, I had a natural tendency to trust others and to give them the benefit of the doubt. By the time I was a young teenager, I had learned the hard way that what people say and what they mean, and do, are often very different things. At first, I was confused, and did not trust that “gut instinct” that the words of someone else, sometimes an authority figure in my life, were actually lies. That particular person(s) lacked personal integrity, and their hollow words were revealing what was really in their heart.

In my early adulthood, when I became a committed follower of Christ, I finally came to recognize that the ability to discern what was in the heart of another was much more than just differentiating between words and visual clues. By the Spirit of God, I was “looking” into the heart of another human being, created in the moral image of God. What I saw there sometimes was deeply disturbing, and yet, at the same time, caused me to feel compassion for that particular individual(s). Perhaps, the compassion I felt was the result of recognizing my own fallenness and tendency to wander from the very God I love. Perhaps it was a gift or a tool that God intended me to use to discern between good and evil, to truly understand the struggles of the human soul in that ongoing war between darkness and light.

So, why am I telling you all this? After all, for some, this seems just too incredible to believe or even understand. I would like to suggest that the ability to discern in the spiritual realm is a lot more common amongst followers of Christ than the world could possibly understand. Yet, even for those who profess to be Christians, I often come across individuals who still depend on their natural mind to understand or grasp something that can only be comprehended spiritually. I have even witnessed that in the prayer lineups of Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. People praying for others with lofty prayers using majestic words, but completely missing the point, and not rightly discerning what is happening in that particular person’s life who has come for prayer. Often, the person in need walks away with an even greater burden upon their shoulders, their spirit broken and slowly drying up. The sick remain sick, the downhearted remain hopeless, the disappointed become disillusioned…

I was troubled to learn that people are being taught in the Church to pray for others with their eyes open looking for visual clues to assist them to know how to pray. So much for discernment, even the proponents of modern psychology know how to use auditory and visual clues to guide them in counselling others. That is not spiritual discernment, that is observation based on the principles of basic science utilizing two of our five senses to understand and verify our environment.

Have we forgotten that the Spirit of God dwells within each and every follower of Christ? Do we understand that only spirit can understand spirit? Deep understands deep?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7 NIV

For those who have understood and comprehended all of the aforementioned, I want to encourage you to pursue the Giver and not just the gifts. At the same time, allow the Spirit of God to work in and through you for the benefit of others. He will indeed lead you and guide you through this life. Deep calls out to deep.

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Narrow is the gate…

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The Path of Life

The narrow path is a difficult path to walk upon. The way is strewn with rocks and roots and all things arduous. Yet, we do not journey alone, for God is with us. Few will walk this path towards God. The rebellious of heart will choose the broad path of least resistance, a life without God for eternity. Please turn your heart towards God, and let us walk this narrow path in life together.

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. Matthew 7:13 NLT

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My Eyes are Dry

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Keith Green 1953-1982

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me

But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your Blood

Keith Gordon Green (October 21, 1953 – July 28, 1982) was an American contemporary Christian music pianist, singer and songwriter originally from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York.

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The Ludicrous Battle over Hot Potatoes

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The Interconnection of Humanity

Whenever I find myself in a disagreement with another human being, particularly a fellow believer or follower of Christ, I am reminded to wait, step back, and catch my metaphorical breath before I proceed with my point of view or perspective on a given situation.

Much of what people fight over are merely temporal situations in the grand scheme of time and history. Unfortunately, for some, their frame of reference is often nurtured and cultivated by popular culture rather than biblical principle. The media from the Left and the Right owe their very existence to their readership who, as a group, tend to polarize towards a given side, perspective, or point of view. In the final analysis, it boils down to a WE versus THEM battle, often over the hot potatoes that the media loves to throw into the centre of the battle cage. Like starving coyotes, we leap into the centre of the ring in a life or death battle over a silly hot potatoe too hot to touch.

Granted, certain issues of morality and ethics are not up for discussion for any true follower of Christ. Just about everything else that falls outside of that is open to meaningful discussion, respectful debate, compromise and concession.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds us:

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)

Yet, here we find ourselves in a battle of the wills against our brother or sister in Christ over things that are simply foolish. The real battle is not with our neighbour, our friend, our family member – it is against evil in the unseen realm. We cannot battle in the supernatural realm on our own strength with human wit and knowledge –  natural tools that will surely fail.

So, the next time you get a little hot under the collar and feel justified in your righteous anger, simply slow down a little, and take the time to spiritually discern what is really going on in a conflict situation. You might be surprised at what you learn. I know I have.

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