How Do You Know if You're Addicted to Exercise?

Medically Reviewed on 9/22/2021

What is exercise addiction?

Exercise and fitness are good for your body and mind. You know you are addicted to exercise when you develop an unhealthy obsession with exercise and fitness.
Exercise and fitness are good for your body and mind. You know you are addicted to exercise when you develop an unhealthy obsession with exercise and fitness.

Exercise and fitness are good for your body and mind.  But exercise addiction happens, and it's easy to become compulsive, especially when you have a particular end goal in mind. When spending too much time at the gym begins to interfere with your everyday responsibilities, it's essential to evaluate your situation and ask yourself whether you're simply chasing a fitness goal or have become addicted to exercising.

Here are some indicators that you may be addicted to working out. 

When a person develops an unhealthy obsession with exercise and fitness, this is known as exercise addiction. This type of addiction is often the result of a body image or eating disorder.

Exercise causes the release of endorphins and dopamine in the nervous system — which creates a pleasure response. In some cases, people may become dependent on this sense of pleasure or reward they receive from exercising.

Some traits exercise addicts often display may include:

  • Engaging in exercise even when it causes physical harm
  • Continuing the behavior despite wanting to change
  • Exercising in secret
  • Having an unhealthy focus on physical fitness
  • Neglecting responsibilities like relationships or work
  • Withdrawing from social commitments

Other compulsive behaviors and obsessions may be present in people who are struggling with exercise addiction. Injury or illness will usually not prohibit someone with an exercise addiction from working out.

A person addicted to exercise may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they go without exercise — including depression, headaches, and body aches.

What causes exercise addiction?

If you desire to improve your physical fitness, you may do so by increasing the time you spend exercising. A person with exercise addiction feels joy while working out. When they stop, the neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of euphoria decrease.

For exercise addicts to get the same feeling, they must continue exercising. People addicted to exercising can often identify they have a problem because intrusive thoughts about training begin to override other desires. They may experience a decrease in social activity or find it difficult to uphold professional obligations.

Seeking the advice of a medical professional is the best option for curbing your addiction to exercise. Your doctor may ask you to keep a journal of your workout routines and log the time you spend exercising to determine if you're demonstrating signs of exercise addiction.

Exercise obsession develops differently in everyone. Here are two types of exercise addiction someone may experience:

Primary exercise addiction

Primary exercise addiction is a kind of behavioral addiction that happens in people who don't have any other mental conditions other than being addicted to exercise. This exercise addiction is more common in men and typically develops because of the "high" feeling given off by the endorphins.

Secondary exercise addiction

When a person grapples with another mental disorder alongside exercise addiction, this is known as secondary exercise addiction. This kind of exercise addiction is more common in women and is often triggered by body image issues. People dealing with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia are at higher risks of getting secondary exercise addiction.

While regular exercise may strengthen your muscles and bones, obsessive exercise can increase the risks of fractures, joint damage, sprained ligaments, and torn muscles among other injuries. People with exercise addiction as well as have existing injuries or lack nutrients due to an eating disorder may have a relatively worse condition and can face further difficulty during recovery.

Treatment options for exercise addiction

If you're struggling with exercise addiction, the first step toward recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem. Self-control is an excellent tool for treating exercise addiction. But, if you can't control the urge to exercise on your own, you should consult a mental health professional.

Therapy along with other healthy activities like yoga or meditation can help treat exercise addiction.

Other steps you can take include switching to a new form of exercise or limiting your current workouts. In some extreme cases, you may want to avoid training altogether in order to regain control.

Be wary of consuming caffeine or using other addictive substances like drugs or alcohol because this can lead to secondary exercise addiction — which can be more difficult to treat.

The amount of time it takes for someone to treat an exercise addiction depends on the severity of their condition. If you or a loved one is suffering from exercise addiction, speak with a licensed health professional to learn more.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/22/2021

Addictive Behaviors Reports: "Exercise addiction is associated with emotional distress in injured and non-injured regular exercisers," "Mental disorders in individuals at risk for exercise addiction – A systematic review."

The BMJ: "Addiction to exercise."

International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction: "The Role of Passion in Exercise Addiction, Exercise Volume, and Exercise Intensity in Long-term Exercisers."

Kent, M. Food and Fitness, Oxford University Press, 2016.