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Could Your Gym Habit Be An Exercise Addiction?

Whether it’s the guilt of having missed a workout session or dragging yourself out of bed for an early morning jog for the fear of missing your New Year’s target, ‘exercise addiction’ is becoming a major concern among fitness experts and health specialists. 

It can be difficult to determine how much exercise is too much, without knowing the individual circumstances surrounding each person, but the addiction specialists from Private Rehab Clinic Delamere have shared some of the common signs to look out for.

What is exercise addiction? 

Getting regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy. Exercise has been linked to positive health benefits such as increased energy, greater quality sleep, reduced stress, a boost in happy hormones, and the reduction of heart disease risk. However, many individuals feel compelled to exercise and are unable to stop even when they experience pain or injury. 

While there are many physical and psychological benefits of exercise, when endured at high levels, it can generate negative effects, including an unhealthy addiction. 

Exercise addiction is described as an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise. For many individuals, it’s often the outcome of body image disorders and eating disorders. 

Although it’s not classified as a mental health disorder, exercise addiction carries similar emotional effects as other addictions, for example, obsessive behaviour, continuing despite physical harm and wanting to stop, engaging in secret behaviours, and denial of activities. 

What causes exercise addiction? 

Exercise addiction typically stems from individuals having a strong desire to improve their overall physical fitness and wellbeing.

Those with body image problems, low self-esteem and limited self-confidence are generally at a higher risk than those without. 

There is a strong correlation between an unhealthy relationship with exercise and eating disorders. Individuals who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or other body image disorders can often have a destructive obsession with fitness and exercise.

In fact, research carried out by Brewerton discovered that nearly 40% of patients suffering from anorexia had also been displaying compulsive exercise behaviours.

When we exercise our bodies release endorphins and dopamine from the brain. When these hormones are released into our bodies, we experience happiness, relaxation, overall mood improvements, and lower symptoms of depression.

After someone stops exercising these feelings of joy often leave. Increasing the level of exercise to trigger a chemical release to reduce stress and improve mood is usually the way people gradually develop an exercise disorder. 

Whether it’s a childhood experience or something you faced as an adult, traumatic experiences change how you see the world and feel about yourself.

It’s not uncommon to find that many addictions are underpinned by a traumatic experience. Often, trauma leads to exercise and other forms of behavioural or substance addiction. 

Trauma can have long-lasting effects on one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. Individuals who have experienced a traumatic event could become dependent on an unhealthy habit to find relief from their symptoms. 

What are the key signs of exercise addiction? 

Keeping fit and active is a key part of maintaining health and happiness, but how do you know when too much of a good thing becomes bad? 

Despite there being no formal diagnosis of exercise addiction, there are still symptoms in association with the thoughts, emotions, behaviours of those who present with the disorder. Here are the six key signs;

  1. Lack of control – Those experiencing exercise addictions find it difficult to control their desire for fitness, this can even go as far as working out while injured or experiencing illness. People also have unsuccessful attempts at reducing exercise levels or stopping beyond a certain time. 
  2. Depression and anxiety – Exercise has been shown to increase mood and overall mental wellbeing, some addicts will become obsessed with the hours spent working out to overcome feelings of sadness and fatigue. When exercise isn’t possible, they will often begin to show high levels of depression and anxiety. ​​The dangerous compulsion often leads to strong feelings of guilt. 
  3. Low self-esteem – People who are gym obsessed measure progress in terms of size, strength or speed. They often determine one’s self-worth based on their exercise achievements and fitness ability. 
  4. Body image disorder – Fitness addiction causes individuals to create an unrealistic version of themselves and strive to ‘perfection’, even if it’s damaging and unhealthy for them to do so. When they are not at their desired weight, strength or fitness goal it can lead to eating disorders, calorie counting, overexercising and compulsiveness. 
  5. Time and schedule controlled – Refusing to miss a workout, regardless of weather, injury or schedule is one of the most common signs of exercise addiction. People often find themselves skipping scheduled activities they enjoy for exercise instead. They might find themselves spending more time working out per session, beyond what is considered safe and healthy. 
  6. Denial and defensive – When questioned, they will act defensively when discussing the potential compulsive exercising problem. 
  7. Feeling tired constantly – Spending too much time working out will often lead to fatigue and exhaustion. This pressure on your body and health can lead to sickness and injuries if not managed correctly.

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