Compulsive Exercise Addiction

Exercise is an example of something that on the surface may sound like it would be good for us, being taken to extremes. However exercise addiction and extreme fixation on physical fitness is a compulsive behavior that may be quite difficult to stop without appropriate treatment.

What is Exercise Addiction?

A person who is an exercise addict is over-involved in physical activity. It's not a matter of trying to perform at one's personal best or trying to achieve a certain level of fitness. If an exercise addict is unable to get to exercise for a time, they work out even more intensely the next time they get the opportunity to do so as if they must not possibly miss getting their maximum amount of physical exertion; essentially they're practicing obligatory exercise.

Signs of Exercise Addiction

Indications that you or someone you care about may be an exercise addict are as follows:

  • Choosing exercise over spending time with friends and/or family
  • Compulsive exercising such as getting up to exercise late at night
  • Exercising even when sick or tired
  • Feeling guilty when unable to exercise
  • Keeping extremely detailed records of workouts
  • Staying away from school or work to exercise
  • Withdrawal symptoms when unable to exercise
  • Frequent injury from over-exercising

Causes of Addiction

One of the positive effects from engaging in exercise is the release of endorphins. These hormones give a feeling of euphoria after exercising. The exercise addict falls into a pattern of continuing to exercise to excess in an attempt to feel that way. Over time, they increase the length and intensity of their workout to recapture that feeling.

Exercise also helps to relieve stress and anxiety, and it's possible that the exercise addict turns to physical activity to cope with the strains of everyday life. If a person is using exercise as a way to avoid dealing with difficult issues or situations, then it may be a sign of addiction.

Consequences of Exercise Addiction

Excessive exercising can lead to several consequences for the addict, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Decreased testosterone production in men
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Problems in personal relationships

WebMD covers more problems that exercise compulsion can create.

Help and Treatment for Exercise Addiction

When you are ready to get help for exercise addiction, look to a psychologist or a psychiatrist for counseling to uncover and address the root of the problem. Your doctor can refer you to someone qualified to help you quit using exercise in an inappropriate manner. The goal of treatment is to help the addict learn how to exercise enough to stay healthy, without becoming obsessed again.

Beyond Quitting: Exercise Addiction Recovery and Rehabilitation

Exercise is something that is important to good health. The person who is a recovering exercise addict needs to learn how to start over and limit their level of physical activity to moderate levels. Continuing therapy and medications for obsessive-compulsive disorder may help to deal with the urge to exercise to excess.

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