Exercise is a vital part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Running, swimming, and biking are all examples of physical activities that promote well-being. However, these activities can create unhealthy obsessions and even become addictive. Just because exercise is known as a “healthy” habit does not mean that it may remain that way. The goals that one reaches, such as completing a mile-long run, or swimming for over 30 minutes, create a feeling of achievement and a sort of rush. This feeling can lead to prioritizing the exercise over other enjoyable activities, such as spending time with friends and family.

Exercise Addiction

Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects.” Therefore, the exercise itself is a behavioral addiction that may begin controlling you. When it starts to impact daily life negatively, dependence may be developing. Much like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you begin to prioritize the exercise over everything else. Being late, rescheduling, and canceling previously scheduled events becomes the norm. Guilt is a common emotion during the addiction since missing out on important life events becomes a constant issue that leads to shame. Problems with depression and burnout also occur.

The Prevalence and Symptoms of Exercise Addiction

About 3% of people have a general exercise addiction, and 10% of all high-performance runners are addicted to their activity. Mostly, exercise addiction occurs with first-time or amateur athletes. Fitness trackers may be contributing to the prevalence of exercise addiction, leading those driven by perfectionism or achievement onto an unhealthy path. Although exercise is a great way to manage depression and anxiety, too much of it can lead to obsession and addiction. Numerous health symptoms can arise as a result. Over-exercising may lead to:

  • Tendinitis
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Eating disorders
  • Stress fractures

Subsequent addictions to drugs or alcohol may develop as coping mechanisms for emotional and/or physical pain caused by excessive exercise.

Looking for Help?

The first step towards recovering from an addiction is recognizing that there is a problem. Just as with any addiction to drugs or alcohol, support from friends and family is vital to maintain long-lasting recovery. Breaking the cycle of addiction and moving towards recovery is the ultimate goal. There is hope, and you are not alone. Addictions to behaviors, things, or substances are pervasive in our modern society. Once an addiction has developed, establishing a healthy balance is hard to do single-handedly. At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer community and support to help you find that balance. We know that long-term recovery is possible, and we are committed to providing a safe and nurturing space where you can explore yours. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807.


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