Am I Addicted to Exercise?

If you’re familiar with the saying, “moderation is key,” you know that everything has the potential to harm when you take it to the extreme—even exercise!

When the need for physical activity becomes an overwhelming compulsion or obsession, negative psychological factors can outweigh the physical benefits of exercise, especially if no time is left for rest, recovery, and other life priorities.

Here’s how to recognize the signs of exercise addiction…

Fitness Becomes Identity

Many of us identify as folks who work out or even humorously as “gym rats” or “running buffs”. However, when your self-worth becomes totally intertwined and dependent on your fitness level and frequency, it can lead to unhealthy self-esteem and the need to chastise yourself when you’re unable to work out.

Fitness is Priority #1

When fitness becomes the very first item, above all else, on the list of priorities in your life, you may find it tough to find pleasure in other aspects in your life. For example, aspects you once held in high regard (i.e., school or family) can become ignored if your sole focus is working out—so much so that your day is completely ruined if you don’t fit in exercise.

Emotional Triggers

We all know that working out releases “feel good” endorphins that leave you feeling strong, happy, and energetic post-workout. However, exercise addicts will suffer the opposite effects, to the extreme, when they miss a workout—for instance, they will tend to beat themselves up emotionally by being irritable, moody, angry, anxious, self-depicting, and depressed.

Fitness Becomes Glorified

Exercise typically sits smack dab at the center of the universe for exercise addicts, meaning fitting in workouts takes value over everything else in their lives—including meaningful facets like family, friends, career, social life, and passions or hobbies—they once loved outside of exercise.

Exercise Through the Pain

An exercise addict won’t often skip workout for any reason—including on days when they are sick, recovering from an illness, lacking sleep, or even if they suffer an injury or personal trauma.  It’s rare for an exercise addict to allow any physical or emotional impairment to prevent a workout. In fact, the concept of taking a day off will horrify an exercise addict.

Image Distortion

Many symptoms of exercise addiction and eating disorders can overlap. For instance, those addicted to exercise often experience body dysmorphia so severely that they have unrealistic views about their personal appearance and may believe that they are overweight or out of shape even when they are in excellent physical form.

All or Nothing Mentality

Exercise addicts often view the world in black and white (definite) rather than in gray (or indefinite terms), which can be dangerous and unhealthy.  For instance, they may be unable to do a quick workout or be interrupted mid workout because of the compulsion to finish their entire workout routine.

Self-Punishing Behavior

An exercise addict is prone to the “no pain, no gain” attitude, but to the extreme. For instance, if they miss a workout they may double up their physical activity the following day, or they may force themselves to skip meals or severely deprive themselves of calories in order to penalize themselves for a missed workout.


Emily Lockhart

Emily Lockhart is a certified yoga instructor and personal trainer. She believes that being healthy is a lifestyle choice, not a punishment or temporary fix to attain a desired fitness or body image goal. Anna helps her clients take responsibility for their own health and wellness through her classes and articles on ActiveBeat.