Are You an Exercise Addict?

It was once thought of as a “positive” addiction, but now addiction specialists know better.  Exercise addiction, like all other addictions, can not only take away from the other joys in life, but can be hazardous to your health.  Referred to as a process addiction, exercise addiction can weaken the immune system, lead to extreme overuse injury, cause early-onset osteoporosis, damage relationships, and lead to social isolation.  Below are five symptoms that may help the exercise enthusiast identify a potential addiction.

If the signs below are all too familiar, it may be time to solicit the professional help of a clinical counsellor, or other helping professional, to help create an action plan for health…


1.  Exercise is Taking More Time Out of the Day

What once was a quick jog around the block has now morphed into hours of the day spent running or exercises that support running.  The exercise addicted is spending more time acquiring the equipment and clothing necessary for serious running.

To support exercise addition, individuals may seek out technology to monitor and chart their progress.  They may also increase  their participation in running events, such as marathons, and increase training time in the name of healthy competition.

2.  More is Better

When exercising becomes a habit, a tolerance to the physiological and psychological effects may develop.  Similar to any other type of addiction, for instance dependance upon drugs or alcohol, the exercise addicted will need and crave more of the “drug” to get the same desired effects.

As a result of this addictive behaviour, the exerciser must increase the dosage. In the case of exercise addiction, the addict craves physical activity, and gets a “fix” by adding intensity, duration, and days to their workout program.

3.  Saying “No” Isn’t an Option

An addicted exerciser may make attempts at reducing his daily exercise only to suffer from the effects of withdrawal.  Similar to the withdrawal from alcohol and drugs, the reduction or elimination of exercise may lead to feelings of anxiety, angry outbursts, irritability, and stress.

While physical activity is a great tool for stress management, there is a fine line between healthy management of stress and a diversion from emotional pain and discomfort.  Like the person abusing alcohol as a way to self-medicate, the exercise addicted use exercise as a way to put off today what they could feel tomorrow.

4.  Eventually, It’s all about the Workout

Over time, the exercise addicted will eliminate those pesky social events, family outings, and unnecessary time spent on other health-affirming activities to dedicate more time on their exercise program.  A narrow focus will not only lead to social disconnection, but also cause an over-identification related to the cultivation of an exercise identity.

As a result, too much focus on this exercise identity may lead to a huge sense of loss should exercise participation cease.  Balance is the key to good health and time spent on exercise is no different.

5.  Exercise Becomes More Important Than Injury

When an exercise injury occurs, the exercise addict will insist she or he is able to run or exercise through it.  She or he may minimize the impact or severity of the injury in order to get the next workout fix.

Inevitably, this may result in serious damage to bone and muscle leaving the addicted exerciser no choice by to sustain exercise or decrease it significantly.  Sadly, an overuse injury at age 25 may come back to haunt you at 60 as chronic pain sets in and mobility is decreased…which this is no way to spend your retirement.


Kathi Cameron, MA, RCC

Kathi has worked in the health and fitness profession for over 25 years and holds a degree in Kinesiology with master’s degrees in exercise and sport psychology and clinical counselling. She is currently a corporate facilitator in health promotion on topics relating to exercise, mental health, and addiction awareness. She is a firm believer in the prescription of exercise for positive mental health and that good health can be enjoyed at every size.