What is Exercise Addiction?
Defined as “an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise”, it is often a result of degraded body image and/or an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Exercise addicts exhibit behavioral compulsive traits similar to other types of addicts.
However, many times exercise addiction flies just under the radar when compared to other types of addictions. The challenge is defining what is “unhealthy” and “obsessive”.
But make no mistake about it, it can be just as destructive as any other type of addiction in that the mind forces the body to do more than it can eventually endure. The result – injuries, which further fuel the obsession to exercise even when the body is incapable.
Who is at Risk?
Exercise addicts may also be susceptible to other types of addictions. A study done by the University of California determined that 15% of exercise addicts were also addicted to cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs; they estimate 25% may be addicted to sex or shopping. It is interesting to note that some former addicts turn to exercise as a method of filling a void. However if not controlled, it can come down to trading one addiction for another.
Signs of Exercise Addiction
Like most forms of addiction, there are some telltale signs that you may be hooked:
- feeling “high” after exercising
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms after long periods without exercise
- uncontrollable desires to exercise
- reduced activities in other areas of life in order to make time for exercise
- long periods spent preparing for and recovering from exercise
- inability to stick to a reduced exercise routine
When the constant thought of working out controls your life, and starts to affect your family and work, you have an addiction problem.
Like with most addictions, your body gets “used to” the high at a particular level of exercising and it takes progressively more exercising to produce that high you have grown accustomed to expect. With those not addicted to exercising, they get the same high over and over with the same amount of exercising whereas you keep craving more and more.
Curing the compulsive desire to exercise is similar to curing other types of addictions. First, if you have other addictions, such as an eating disorder, work on curing those first as they may be a driving force behind your exercise addition. Second, rehabilitation can start only after you recognize that you have a problem.
Once you have the awareness, use self-control to modify and reduce the current amount of time spent exercising. In some cases abstinence until the desire has past may be required. This could take from several days to several weeks or months.