A Doctor's Advice on Identifying Exercise Addiction Symptoms

DrSugar: Exercise Addiction — How Much Is Too Much?


DrSugar is in the house and he's answering your health questions.

Dear DrSguar,
I'm a big fitness fanatic and spend more time than I'd like to admit working out at the gym. I'm starting to worry that I might have an exercise addiction. Could you provide me with more information?
— Excessive Exerciser?

Exercise addiction is a real problem, and it is very brave of you to write in with this question. To learn how to determine how much exercise is too much, read more.

Exercise addiction is an under-recognized issue that can lead to serious overuse injuries, hormone imbalances, and even permanent bone damage. There are multiple and varied reasons that people develop compulsive exercise habits that lead to "addiction." Sometimes the problem is related to body image and/or self esteem problems and can be similar to an eating disorder. In these people, compulsive exercise is the negative coping mechanism similar to starving or self-induced vomiting. Others use it as an escape from stress or other pressures, but these folks can develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise as a means of avoidance as well as looking for the positive endorphin rush from working out. Exercise is a great way to battle stress, but overdoing it can lead to self-destructive exercise behaviors.

Recognizing exercise addiction is not based entirely on the quantity of your workouts. World-class athletes often train for long periods every day and they would not necessarily be labeled as addicts. Compulsive exercise is more about a person’s feelings toward exercise and how compulsive exercising affects their life. Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding exercise addiction:

  • Have I missed a social event because I felt the need to exercise instead?
  • Do friends and family feel neglected because I am frequently exercising instead of spending time with them?
  • Do I feel guilty when I miss a planned workout?
  • Does missing a workout make me feel irritable and ruin my day?
  • Do I feel anxious when I think something with interfere with scheduled workouts?
  • Do I feel that my physical condition will be compromised if I don’t exercise for one day?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it could be a sign that you have developed an unhealthy relationship with exercise. If this sounds like you, I would recommend seeking help. I would try finding a counselor or therapist that specializes in body image issues or eating disorders since there is often a lot of a similarity between these disorders. Check out the treatment finder page at Something Fishy. Good luck.

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DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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