Is Exercise Addiction a Real Thing? Recognize the Signs & Symptoms

what is excercise addiction

Getting exercise is important if you want to be healthy, but there is a point when you could be getting too much exercise. There are a lot of people who suffer from exercise addiction and might not be aware of this.

It is important that you know what exercise addition is, what the risk factors are and what the symptoms of this addiction are so you can avoid it.

What is Exercise Addiction?

a group of women exercising

When people think about addiction, exercise (see one of our favorites here) is the last thing that will come to mind but this is a legitimate problem.

Exercise addiction is the unhealthy obsession with exercise and physical fitness. This addiction is commonly seen as a result of eating disorders and body image disorders.

There are certain traits and behaviors which are displayed by people who suffer from this addiction that are similar to other addicts.

These will include an obsession over the behavior, engaging in the behavior even when it becomes harmful to them, engaging in this behavior even if they want to stop and engaging in the behavior in secret.

The reason why exercise is addictive is the chemicals released by the nervous system when you exercise which cause a sensation of pleasure.

What Causes it?

a woman who is addicted to working out lifts weights

When you exercise, your body will release the chemicals dopamine and endorphins.

These are the same chemicals that are released during drug use which causes an exercise addict to feel rewarded, pleasure and joy when they exercise.

When they stop exercising, the chemicals will go away and the feelings will fade as well. In order to trigger these chemicals again, the addict will need to continue exercising or start exercising again.

Exercise addiction will generally start with good intentions of wanting to become fitter and healthier. Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia can also lead to an obsession with exercise for different reasons.

Body dysmorphic disorder may also cause an addiction to exercise.

Who is at Risk?

female weight lifter

When looking at any addiction, there are generally certain people who are at greater risks than others.

There are some people who are at a higher risk of exercise addiction than others. People who feel pressured to stay in shape are at risk of this addiction. People who are overweight and decide to take on an extreme weight loss regime will also be at risk of this addiction.

The University of Southern California conducted research into exercise addiction and found that around 15 percent of the addicts were also addicted to alcohol, illicit drugs and cigarettes.

Another estimated 25 percent of addicts also had other non-tangible addictions such as sex additions and shopping addictions.

There are some cases where former alcoholics and drug addicts turn to exercise as a way to fill the void that is left by their past addictions.

This is similar to people who give up cigarettes and become addicted to caffeine instead. Past addicts are at a greater risk of developing a new addiction.

Exercise Addiction Symptoms

a very buff woman

There are a number of common symptoms that you need to know about which point to an exercise addiction. The first is feeling buzzed or extremely elated after exercising.

Another common symptom is a feeling of withdrawal when you do not exercise for a long period of time or if you feel any symptoms of withdrawal.

An uncontrollable urge to exercise is another sign of an exercise addiction. If you are reducing other activities in your life so that you have more time to exercise, you are experiencing a symptom of this addiction.

You are also showing symptoms if you are unable to stick to a reduced exercise program or you spend a long period of time preparing for or recovering from exercise.

How is Exercise Addiction Diagnosed?

a male bodybuilder

As most exercise addicts do not realize that their behavior is something to worry about, diagnosis of this addiction is not always easy.

There is also the problem that exercise addiction is not a recognized diagnosis with the American Psychiatric Association.

This means that there are no set diagnosis criteria which can be used.

If you experience an increase in your obsession with fitness and decreased levels of social activity, you could have this addiction. A doctor may ask that you keep a journal of your exercise to better determine if you are addicted or not.

Bottom Line: Can it Be Prevented?

There are some steps that you can take to try and avoid an exercise addiction. The first is to avoid excessive gym trips, which can lead to injury and fatigue.

You need to limit the amount of exercise that you do each day and the amount of time that you spend working out each week. Self-control is the most important factor when it comes to preventing this addiction.

You also need to ensure that you take breaks during the week to allow your body to rest and stop any addiction to exercise chemical releases.