Research is continuing into exercise addiction, or excessive addiction as it otherwise known, so it is likely to be better understood in the future. We have all seen people who are seemingly obsessed with exercise, diets, and fitness regimes, and sometimes we may wonder if they are over doing it slightly.

While it may not be a formally classified mental disorder, it shares many similarities to other behavioral addictions, and can have harmful consequences. Although there is no single definition of exercise addiction, it is generally agreed that it comprises withdrawal, a buzz when exercising, impairs normal functioning, and can affect relationships; this is much the same as with other addictive behaviors.

What It Looks Like

  • As with any other addiction, one of the main characteristics of exercise addiction is a compulsion, or a need, to engage in the behavior on a very frequent basis.
  • This may include over exercising several times a day or week, causing physical harm to oneself through too much exercise and putting exercise before other important things in life.
  • When not exercising, there is likely to be a withdrawal, which only fuels the need to exercise even more.
  • Someone with an exercise addiction is also likely to avoid other normal aspects of day-to-day life, for fear of not exercising enough that day.
  • They may lack motivation or interest in social activities that are not based around exercise, and find they retreat inwards, away from their social networks.
  • Despite possibly causing injury to themselves, someone with an exercise addiction will continue no matter what. Even if they are injured and should be resting, they will more than likely engage in some form of exercise. The addiction and need to do some kind of exercise will be greater than the impact of the injury.

Getting Help

Initially, the addict must realize and accept they have a problem. Without this vital first step, any subsequent treatment is unlikely to work. If there are any injuries or health problems, whether associated to the exercise or not, these must be considered and treated as a priority. Next, the person needs to begin the long road of changing their thoughts and behaviors around exercise.  One of the challenges to this type of compulsion versus say drugs or alcohol is that in the later cases the addict must abstain completely form using, but with exercise, the person can and should get back to exercise but learn balance and restraint.

If the person has low self-esteem, this will need to be built up in other ways, so they are able to get the same effect through another mechanism, not excessive exercise. The person’s family, friends, and support network should also be involved, as the addiction will have affected them. They are also the people who will be able to provide the greatest level of support to the individual, and hopefully create a change in them.

Bottom Line

Exercise addiction is a very real addiction, and should be treated like any other behavioral addiction as it shares the same characteristics and treatment options. Thankfully, the prognosis is positive once the person has accepted the addiction and is ready to work with others to bring about change.

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