What Is Exercise Addiction?
Exercise addiction is an unhealthy obsession with physical
fitness and exercise. It is often a result of body image disorders and eating
disorders. Exercise addicts display traits similar to those of other addicts.
These include obsession with the behavior, engaging in the behavior even though
it is causing physical harm, engaging in the behavior despite wanting to stop,
and engaging in the behavior in secret.
Exercise causes the release of certain chemicals in the
nervous system. These chemicals create a sense of pleasure or reward. Exercise
addiction may be, in part, a dependence on this pleasure response.
Extreme weight loss and health conditions related to weight
loss can result from exercise addiction.
What Causes Exercise Addiction?
Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine, which are the
same neurotransmitters released during drug use. An exercise addict feels
reward and joy when exercising. But when exercise stops, the neurotransmitters
go away. An addict has to exercise more to trigger the chemical release.
Exercise addiction usually starts with a desire for physical
fitness. An eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or bulimia may lead to an
unhealthy obsession with exercise. A body dysmorphic disorder, or body image
disorder, may also cause exercise addiction.
Who Is at Risk For Exercise Addiction?
People who feel pressure to stay in shape are at risk of
developing exercise addiction.
Overweight people who set out on an extreme weight loss
regimen may be at risk of exercise addiction.
Researchers at the University of Southern California speculate
that 15 percent of exercise addicts are also addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or
illicit drugs. An estimated 25 percent may have other addictions, such as sex
addiction or shopping addiction.
In some cases, former drug addicts and alcohol abusers turn
to exercise to fill the void left by past addictions. This is similar to the
way a smoker may become addicted to caffeine after quitting cigarettes.
What Are the Symptoms of Exercise Addiction?
Common signs of exercise addiction include:
- feeling buzzed after exercising
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms after long
periods without exercise
- uncontrollable desires to exercise
- reduced activities in other areas of life to
make time for exercise
- long periods spent preparing for and recovering
- inability to stick to a reduced exercise routine
How Is Exercise Addiction Diagnosed?
Exercise addiction is not always easy to diagnose. Most
exercise addicts don’t see anything wrong with their behavior and don’t report
Increased fitness obsession and decreased social activity commonly
indicate exercise addiction. A doctor may ask you to keep a journal of your
workout routines and social activities to determine if you are addicted.
How Is Exercise Addiction Treated?
In most cases, self-control is required to treat exercise
addiction. An addict acknowledges that he or she has a problem and takes steps
to control exercise activity. Medications and home care may treat exercise
Medications may treat other addictions that make exercise
addiction worse, such as smoking or illegal drug use.
Exercise addicts often switch to new forms of exercise or moderate
their current workouts. An exercise addict may need to stop exercising for a time
in order to gain control of the desire to exercise.
What Is the Outlook for Exercise Addiction?
Mental and physical dedication can treat exercise addiction.
But displays of addictive behavior are warning signs of other addictions that
may come. Exercise addicts should avoid drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and other
substances that cause addiction.
The amount of time it takes for a person to overcome exercise
addiction depends on the severity of the condition.
Preventing Exercise Addiction
To prevent exercise addiction, avoid excessive trips to the
gym. Limit your workout time and the amount of daily exercise. Take breaks from
exercise throughout the week to let your body rest. If you find yourself
becoming uncontrollably obsessed, talk to your doctor about your options.