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Exercise Addiction

What is Exercise Addiction?

When exercising crosses the line to dependency and compulsion, as opposed to commitment and focus, the results can affect the physical, social and psychological well being of an individual. When this boundary is crossed and dependency on exercise has been formed there is typically a chronic loss of perspective of the role exercise plays in a balanced life. A healthy athlete and an exercise addict may share similar levels of training but the difference is in the attitude. An addicted individual isn’t able to see value in activities unrelated to exercise and pursues his sport even when it is against their best interest.

Exercise Addiction as a Process Addiction

Exercise addiction is known as a process addiction. A process addiction is an addiction to certain behaviors or processes that alter mood and brain chemistry. Unlike chemical addiction, the brain is altered by the process of engaging in an activity as opposed to introducing a chemical to the body. The term addiction refers to any recurring compulsion or obsession by an individual despite negative consequences in their life and an inability to cease the activity and remain stopped. Besides exercise addiction, process addictions include eating disorders, love addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, problem gambling, and internet addictions.

Recognizing Exercise Addiction

The exercise addict has lost balance in life. Exercise becomes overly important when compared to friends, family, career, community, and health. When exercising is chosen on a regular basis over connecting with others, when illness, commitments and fatigue don’t hamper an individual’s ability to go exercise and when virtually all free time is consumed by exercising then exercise addiction is likely the diagnosis.

Warning signs and side effects may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic (appearing when circumstances prevent exercise)
  • Feeling of “the more the better” more reps, more training, more intensity
  • Chronic injuries
  • Impaired relationships
  • Co-occurring eating disorder
  • Co-occurring substance abuse such as steroids

Exercising should always have an element of play. If it loses all aspects of fun for an individual, balance is gone. Even the most competitive professional athletes still love their sport. Their workout is not based on compulsive needs.

Sharon Stoliaroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in developed this checklist in conjunction with the American Running Association found on their website as follows:

Rate yourself honestly to the following statements as they apply to you:

  • I have missed important social obligations and family events in order to exercise.
  • I have given up other interests, including time with friends, in order to make more time to work out.
  • Missing a workout makes me irritable and depressed.
  • I only feel content when I am exercising or within the hour after exercising.
  • I like exercise better than sex, good food, or a movie — in fact there’s almost nothing I’d rather do.
  • I work out even if I’m sick, injured, or exhausted. I’ll feel better when I get moving anyway.
  • In addition to my regular schedule, I’ll exercise more if I find extra time.
  • Family and friends have told me I’m too involved in exercise.
  • I have a history (or a family history) of anxiety or depression.

If you have checked three or more of these items, you may be losing your perspective on exercise. Exercise is healthy as long as it is in balance with a full life. It is recommended individuals who answer yes to three or more of the above items consult with a mental health professional or doctor for assistance and consider seeking help.