The critical danger of exercise addiction has been thrown into the spotlight following the tragic death of British cyclist Mark Bentley.
Bentley, a 54-year-old business journalist based in Frankfurt, Germany, spoke to Cycling Weekly in early September and confessed that he felt addicted to riding his bike despite experiencing symptoms of heart problems. Three days later, on 10 September, he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest.
Interviewed for a CW feature on the subject of exercise addiction, the Briton explained how he had been having chest pain while riding and that his exercise habits were getting in the way of other priorities in his life.
Exercise addiction is not officially recognised as a medical condition, but it has been widely researched. It is characterised by the loss of control of exercise habits and a dependence on exercise, resulting in negative health, social and professional consequences.
Studies have consistently shown that cyclists and runners are more at risk of developing the addiction than any other type of sportsperson.
Bentley - who averaged more than 2,000km of cycling per month, much of it on indoors on a turbo trainer - spoke to CW as part of the magazine’s 'Let’s Talk About' series, which focuses on rarely discussed health issues affecting cyclists.
“Both my girlfriend and my mother tell me I’m obsessed," Bentley told CW. "If I’m not riding, I’m talking about it or watching cycling. It never ends... I’m aware it’s addictive, but it’s my hobby so why not do it in my spare time? At least this addiction isn’t harmful. Cycling is healthy.”
Am I addicted to exercise?
Katherine Cullen (née Schreiber), co-author of the book The Truth About Exercise Addiction, advises cyclists concerned they might be addicted.
“Simply ask yourself: is my exercise behaviour causing conflict in my social life?” she said. “It is affecting my work/professional/school life? Is it harming my health? Do I feel like I can't control my behaviour? Have I tried to cut back and not been able to? Do I need more and more of it to feel okay?"
Other symptoms include passing up on other activities or social engagements, feeling more moody or anxious than usual irritable, or excessively troubled when unable to exercise as much as desired. "If this sounds like you," continued Cullen, "you may need some support in learning how to engage with exercise in a more healthy manner."
He added: “Whenever I ride at upper levels of Zone 2, I have a pain in my chest. I’ve decided to cap off the intensity at Zone 2, hoping that should solve it... [If I] have to lay off the training, I’ll lose fitness that I’ve worked hard to build."
Bentley's family kindly consented to the publication of CW's feature, and provided a statement: “Without doubt, Mark was exceptional…we will miss [him] terribly but will always find comfort in our memories, and knowing, as his passing has highlighted, that he had such a positive impact on so many lives.”
The family have set up a JustGiving page in memory of Mark, with all donations going to the Wheels for All charity. The Scuderia Rossetti Social Riding Club, based in Frankfurt, organised their first Mark Bentley Annual Memorial Ride in October.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or mental health charity Mind on 0300 123 3393.
The full long read 'Let's Talk About: Exercise Addiction' is published in the 1 December 2022 print edition of Cycling Weekly. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered direct to your door every week.
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