Bigorexia: when too much physical activity is harmful to your health

·2-min read
Bigorexia can lead to serious physical and psychological consequences.

Addiction affects many fields, and the world of sports is no exception. Recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization since 2011, bigorexia affects about 15% of athletes, whether professional or amateur. And like any addiction, it can be dangerous.

"Sport is like a drug," former soccer player Robert Pirès, who played for Arsenal from 2000-2006, was reported as saying in French daily Le Parisien on March 30. This particular drug has a name: bigorexia, an addiction to physical exercise and muscle mass gain.

It corresponds to "an irrepressible and compulsive need to practice regularly and intensively one or more physical and sports activities in order to obtain immediate gratification, despite the negative long-term consequences on physical, psychological and social health," according to a definition of the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherche en Psychopathologie de Toulouse.

This word comes from the term "big" in English and "orexia," meaning appetite in Greek. It designates an addiction to sports.

Living sport as a need, not a pleasure

Like any other addict, the sports addict organizes their life according to their sports activity. They must get their "dose" of sport every day, the intensity of which can vary. Through the secretion of dopamine and endorphin, exercising provides the feeling of well-being that the athlete craves.

The intensive practice of sport on a daily basis can cause physical injuries related to the fatigue of the body. TIt can go beyond muscular problems, all the way to tendon damage and bone fracture or fatigue, according to a study by the CHU (university hospital center) of Nantes, France. This disease can even push a person towards a heart attack.

While exercise is often perceived as a "positive addiction," in excess bigorexia or muscle dysmorphia can lead to anxiety disorders and is sometimes associated with performance anxiety, fear of failure as well as eating disorders. In the obsessive quest to improve their performance, the athlete may be tempted to change their diet and consume high-protein -- and therefore unbalanced -- meals.

If you have any questions about your relationship with sports, don't hesitate to speak about it to a health professional.

Louis Tardy