Exercise Addiction; What Is It And Are You At Risk?

on October 23, 2021

Have you ever wondered why your neighbor is up at 4:00 am, with a headlamp on, running 10 miles before you even get out of bed? Is this a sign of exercise addiction? Is your mood affected or do your stress levels go up if you don't get in a run everyday? How can you tell if you are addicted to working out and is this even bad? 

Isn't Exercise Supposed to be Good for Us? 

Yes! Exercising is great for us. Everyone should exercise to maintain an ecosystem of good health. Exercise addiction, however, is something to be aware of. 

Exercise addiction, also known as exercise dependence or compulsive exercise, is a type of behavioral addiction. This means that you become addicted to the exercise much in the same way someone becomes dependent on drugs and alcohol. Exercise addicts depend upon exercise to cope with stress and may feel lost without it. They try to exercise as frequently and vigorously as possible, even when injury or illness makes exercise unbearable. They may exercise through extreme weather conditions. Sometimes exercise addiction is also referred to as "exercise dependence". 

What are the Signs of Exercise Addiction?

  • Mood changes if you don't exercise
  • If you exercise past the point of pain, especially when injured or sick.
  • Incessant talking about working out
  • Exercise becomes more important than work and family responsibilities
  • Do you hide the fact you are working out
  • Does working out disrupt your eating, sleeping or daily activities?

Addiction needs to be acknowledged before treated, so you be the judge and decide if several of these signs chronicle your behavior. 

The Confusion Over Exercise is Understandable

Exercise is encouraged because it improves one's health and well-being. That is a proven fact. We are encouraged to exercise from kindergarten on...The confusion comes when exercise becomes front and center and does the opposite; threatens health, causes injuries and possibly eating disorders. Approximately 45 percent of people with an eating disorder also experience exercise compulsion. Throw in the reality that if some people do not exercise, behaviors may create havoc for family members and can damage relationships. 

So ask yourself, do you feel better after exercise? Most say they do. So at what point have you gone too far?

How Do We Know When Exercise Addiction Has Become A Risk?

The good news is only 8% of gym users meet the criteria for exercise addiction. (1) The bad news is you will actually have withdrawal symptoms if you are an exercise addict and are unable to continue with your exercise routine. 

An easy way to determine your level of addiction is to ask yourself, do you ever rest and recover? Let's say you run 5 days per week. Do you rest the other two days? 

East Germany use to dominate the sports world every 4 years. A lot of Gold came back to East German athletes. Their secret? The East German athlete governing board would dictate three days on - then a rest day - two days on, then a rest day. The East German teams had figured out that rest was as important as training. And they won A LOT of medals because of this method of training.

But hey, you are just a weekend warrior. Why should you care? 

Because rest is important for your body to recover. It is that simple. If you cannot stop training you will never recover properly and the body can hold up for only so long. 

If You Think You Are Addicted, What Should You Do?

Like any other addiction, speak with a professional that understands exercise and who has treated this addiction before. If you think you can change bad habits by yourself, don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends for support. 

Self-control can also overcome exercise addiction so the sooner you realize it is starting to interfere with your life, take the steps necessary to find the balance between good health and an "exercise high”. 

If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please. 

Quote from the Greek philosopher, Epictetus

(1) Lichtenstein MB, Griffiths, MD Hemmingsen SD, Støving RK. Exercise addiction in adolescents and emerging adults - Validation of a youth version of the Exercise Addiction InventoryJ Behav Addict. 2018;7(1):117–125. doi:10.1556/2006.7.2018.01
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