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Exercise Addiction: How Much is Too Much?

What exactly is “exercise addiction”? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line between a daily routine and obsession? While exercise has been associated with a slew of health benefits, there are also serious potential health problems that result from regularly overdoing it at the gym.

Exercise Addiction Defined

Exercise addiction is a compulsive disorder in which a person feels the uncontrollable need to exercise excessively. It goes far beyond being passionate about fitness, often resulting in injury or illness. Common symptoms of exercise addiction going beyond original intended duration, frequency or intensity; spending a great deal of time engaging in or planning for exercise; spending less time in social or occupational settings; needed to increase duration or intensity; and feelings of irritability, restlessness or anxiety after a period without exercise. Excessive exercise has only been considered an addiction when people report they feel compelled to exercise. Research studies reveal that approximately 3% of people who exercise are regularly addicted to it, with it being much more common in people in their late teens or early 20’s.

Side Effects

Exercise addiction is associated with more than just physical injuries. Social consequences have been associated with exercise addiction as well. Some examples are disturbed physical functioning, interference with relationships and withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, agitation or restlessness. One of the main physical risks for women is menstrual disturbance due to an unhealthy body mass.

How to Combat it

Recognizing dysfunctional thought patterns and unhealthy behaviors is the first step. It is essential to identify the “why” behind working out. It is important to consult a medical professional and mental health professional when seeking treatment, because the condition affects both the mental and physical body. The goal of therapy is to help patients recognize their addictive behavior and reduce extreme routines. Cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended, as well as working closely with fitness professionals to re-learn internal sensations such as pain and fatigue. Exercise addiction is a serious condition, and if you feel you may be going down this path, be sure to reach out to a health professional or trusted love one.  

Written by GUADS intern Lindsey with contributions from projectknow.com.

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