You’ve undoubtedly heard of behavioral addictions and perhaps even known of someone who has suffered from or is presently suffering from one, or maybe you are worried that you are suffering from one.
But can exercise addiction be considered an actual problem or addiction? Do people truly suffer from workout addiction, where they just can’t get enough miles logged or weights lifted?
It does sound like working out excessively shouldn’t be a” “bad thing” and that it should even be a healthy life choice, right? But unfortunately, that is just not the case.
Like anything else, too much of something can actually be harmful to your health. A healthy balance in all aspects of your life, even exercise, should be your goal.
In this guide, we will explain what exercise addiction is and how to identify signs that you may suffer from workout addiction.
More specifically, we will look at:
- What is Behavioral Addiction?
- What is Exercise Addiction?
- 6 Signs That You Are Addicted to Exercise
- Ways To Help Kick Exercise Addiction
Let’s jump in!
What is behavioral addiction?
According to UK Rehab, behavioral addiction is a type of addiction which sees an afflicted person seized by the compulsion to take part in specific behavior or behaviors on a repeated basis, regardless of any potential negative consequences to that person’s well-being (physical, emotional, financial or otherwise).
Some examples of behavioral addictions include:
- Binge eating
- Video games
- Excessive working
And for our purposes today, exercise.
Even though behavioral addictions often get separated into another category from substance addiction, such as alcohol and drugs, they tend to have the same adverse effects, only replacing substance with activity.
What is exercise addiction?
Exercise addiction is a pattern of behavior where a person loses control over their exercise habits, shows complete dependence on exercising, and will do so even when experiencing negative consequences such as injury, health, work, and social life.
I’m sure you’ve heard or experienced the different positive benefits and effects running or exercise has on us, such as entering that state of euphoria or runner’s high, stress reduction, mood elevation, and a decline in pain perception.
There is a potential risk of becoming addicted to those positive feelings. People who become addicted may begin to over-exercise as they search for this “high.”
If not for the sense of euphoria, others may become addicted to exercise to try and attain the “ideal body image.”
Yes, exercising is terrific for you. In fact, according to the CDC, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity per week for general health. They also state that going beyond the 150 per week will provide even more health benefits.
So, is more always better?
Balance is almost always the answer, whether it’s exercise, eating habits, or a work-social life equilibrium. Keeping a healthy balanced exercise program, whether training for a 5k or an ultramarathon, can help you reach your peak performance potential, keep you happy and healthy, and reduce the risk of injury.
If you feel as though your exercising habits are coming from an unhealthy place, you may be experiencing exercise addiction. Let’s take a look at some of the most common signs:
6 Signs You May Be Addicted To Exercise
#1: Your Exercise Habits Take Priority Over Every Other Aspect Of Your Life
Yes, it is important to stick to your training plan to be able to improve and reach your athletic goals. However, there are days when you just need to take a break.
Whether you’re feeling sick, didn’t get a good night’s sleep, or your body is just begging for you to give it a rest, you may need to skip a session here and there.
Or maybe you have a social engagement, a work dinner, a special occasion you would like to celebrate, and to do so, you need to miss that Zumba class.
Sometimes we need to take a break and let something else take center stage for a change.
If you cannot do so due to feeling badly about missing a session, that brings up our second sign of exercise addiction.
#2: You Feel Extreme Guilt Or Stress Over Missing A Workout
If you are addicted to exercise, you may not be able to make the decision to take a break without feeling extreme guilt. Guilt for not working out, guilt for allowing another aspect of your life to take priority for a change, or even guilt for eating without working out.
If you find yourself feeling stressed out or highly anxious because something came up and you may not be able to hit the gym after work, this could be a sign of exercise addiction.
#3: You Exercise to “Make Up” For Calories Consumed
Some who suffer from exercise addiction may have other underlying reasoning, such as body image and weight. Eating disorders and exercise addiction tend to go hand in hand, as burning calories while working out is another way for one to try and control their weight.
Suppose you feel you need to exercise more to make up for food you have consumed or do not eat because you have not worked out. In that case, this could be a tell-tale sign you have exercise addiction and in addition, perhaps a sign of an eating disorder.
#4: You Feel Exhausted Most Of The Time
Exercise addiction can lead to overtraining, as training becomes the main priority in one’s life. If you are working out so much that it has become unhealthy, you could be damaging your body instead of working toward optimum health and fitness.
Recovery is just as important as training itself, so if you skip it and don’t allow your body the time it needs to rest and heal, it may lead to sickness, overtraining syndrome, or even injury.
#5: Your Athletic Performance Is Declining
Most of us have probably felt at one time or another that we are at a standstill with our training, unable to improve, always running the same 3k test time, or feeling tired during our workouts.
If you are overtraining and exercising for the wrong reasons, a decline in performance is probable.
If your body is overworked from the excessive exercise, and your mind is overloaded from the extreme stress and anxiety, you are likely to decline in performance, which can create even more frustration for you as an athlete.
#6: You Put Yourself In Dangerous Situations To Exercise
There is a big difference between heading out for a run in some light rain and heading out in a torrential thunderstorm with fierce winds.
If you find yourself choosing exercise over your safety, this may be a sign of exercise addiction.
Ensuring your safety should be your number one priority when exercising. This may mean running during daylight instead of at night, waiting for weather conditions to clear, using a treadmill, or making sure you’re up to it. You don’t want to run on an injury and risk making it worse.
As with any addiction, identifying and admitting there is a problem is the first step. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may be able to manage it yourself or need outside help.
Ways To Help Kick Exercise Addiction
Follow A Training Plan
Now, this doesn’t mean downloading any old training plan you find available. Find a well-thought-out training plan from a reliable source, put together by an experienced professional. Ensure your fitness level, experience and goals are taken into consideration.
If you have the means, finding a coach is even better. That way, you will have individualized attention and someone to track your progress. As a running coach, I have often seen that when I take on new runners, they have been training too much on their own instead of too little.
A good coach will ensure you have a healthy balance and are not over-exercising. If your addiction is manageable, you may be able to control it with just this bit of structure, knowing you are training adequately for your health and goals.
Keep A Training Log
Alongside an appropriate training plan is a training log. Like a diary or food journal, a training log helps you keep track of what you did for exercise and how you felt before, during, and after.
You can also keep track of all of your workouts and begin to identify unhealthy patterns that need to be changed. Listen to your body, and follow what it tells you to continue exercising happily and healthily.
Seek Professional Help
If you have been struggling with exercise addiction and feel you can not handle it alone, search for a professional to help you through it. There’s nothing better than an expert at your side to take you step by step through your recovery.
A healthy relationship with exercise is just as meaningful as a healthy relationship with others, your nutrition, your work, and every aspect of your life.
I hope I have shed some light on what an exercise addiction looks like and what to do if you feel you may be suffering from it.
If you would like to start up a workout log right away, you can check out our detailed guide on how to do so here.
Happy and healthy exercising!