We live in a hurried age, where everyone wants to do as many things as possible in the shortest possible time. We’re prisoners of ever greater urgency, and this love of speed (fast food, rapid diets, quick exercise, minute-long stories), along with the advance –and often misuse– of technology, has gone too far. Long work hours make us unhappy and unhealthy (stress, insomnia, hypertension, asthma, allergies, gastrointestinal problems, etc.). Such a hurried life doesn’t allow us to be in contact with the world or with other people, mainly because it doesn’t allow us time to to be in contact with ourselves.
Part of the reason for this is probably the fact that until just a few decades ago most of the population led a life of mere subsistence, with long work hours, poor nutrition and even worse hygiene. But now they are part of a society that constantly seeks wellbeing and a better quality of life.
This greater prosperity had led people to be more careful about their health, their body and their psychological well-being. This can be seen in the fact that large sectors of the population engage in physical exercise.
Most health professionals believe that exercise is not only beneficial physically but that it can also reduce anxiety and depression and, in general, improve emotional functioning. But exercise badly applied –an obsession with building muscle, improving health disproportionately, wanting a perfect body or distorting reality when looking in the mirror– is something that concerns the specialists.
This happens because in recent decades a perfect physical appearance has become one of the principal aims in advanced societies. It’s a goal imposed by new life models in which the physical aspect seems to be the only valid measure of success, happiness and even health.
In this context, physical exercise becomes an important way to achieve that perfect body. But it may not be healthy, because a compulsive attitude about exercise, along with deficient or excessive diets, can push the body to its limits. Some specialists believe this is the result of a society given over to a narcissistic “looking-glass culture,” the flip side of self-esteem (Pérez Sales, 2001).
But it’s important to state that just because someone wants an ideal body doesn’t mean that this person suffers from some psychological disorder, although there are increased chances that such a disorder might appear. Caring for your appearance and body and staying in shape is not harmful. Quite the opposite: it’s very healthy.
But this addiction can be much greater, and years ago someone coined the term ‘vigorexia’ to describe a mental change that most affects men between 18 and 35 years of age –although in recent years there has been an increase among women. There are two kinds. The first one affects people who have an important alteration in their body image and who want to be stronger. The second, and more common one, is found in people who take pleasure in exercise and sports but who submit to obsessive daily training sessions and who can’t conceive of life without continual exercise. Among the principal causes: low self-esteem or a lack of affection from other people. Researchers note that people with these kinds of problems are usually immature and introverted and, above all, don’t accept their appearance.
While these people often justify their exercise by saying it is for health reasons, many of their habits (consuming steroids and anabolic agents, compulsive exercise and destabilizing diets) are often unhealthy.
People addicted to exercise are not conscious of their problem and don’t tend to ask for help, and so it is crucial to work on prevention. Physical, cognitive, emotional and social development should go hand-in-hand. Learning how to care for oneself from childhood and adopting good habits, both physical and psychological, will help reinforce self-esteem and generate healthier motivation.