If you’re reading this, you likely already know that to be healthy you have to exercise regularly. But did you know that it’s entirely possible to have an exercise addiction? In fact, it is estimated that 3% of regular gym goers are exercise addicts. This number can change dramatically depending on the specific population and type of physical activity.

For example, some research suggests that approximately 25% of amateur runners may be considered addicted to exercise while a shocking 50% of marathon runners may be addicts.

While the prevalence of exercise addiction is certainly low compared to other more common addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling), considering the physical (shin splints, irregular heartbeats, fatigue) and emotional toll exercise addiction brings, it’s important to explore the issue and know what to look for.


What exactly is exercise addiction?


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If you love to exercise, it’s important to know the symptoms of exercise addiction.


Simply put, this type of addiction describes someone who is fanatical about physical activity despite any negative consequences. The symptoms experienced with his addiction are similar to other addictions. The only big difference is the “drug“ of choice here is fitness.


5 Symptoms of exercise addiction:


1. Heightened stimulus


There is a growing need for more and more physical activity to get the same endorphin highs, greater self-esteem, etc. This might look like rapidly switching from one obsession (i.e., running, climbing, biking, CrossFit) to another after overdoing each activity.


2. Withdrawal


If someone has an exercise addiction, on the days when they don’t (or aren’t able to) exercise, there is a feeling of anxiety, depression, irritability, etc. There’s a difference between missing out on the endorphin rush you get from a quick 30 minutes cardio session and feeling angry, agitated, or irritated because you couldn’t get your run in.


3. Loss of control


It feels incredibly difficult for people who have an exercise addiction to keep their fitness levels down to manageable levels. This often shows up in the form of pushing time limits on workouts and exercising on “off-days.”


4. Obsession


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If you start to feel like you’re becoming obsessed with going to the gym, planning for the gym, thinking about being in the gym, you may have an exercise addiction.


More and more time is given to physical fitness than to work, social life, hobbies, etc. In fact, over time, if someone is struggling with exercise addiction less time is given to social or work activities while exercise becomes even more of a priority.


5. Poor decision making


Despite illness, injury, or caution by concerned friends/family/healthcare providers, people with exercise addiction persist with their physical activity levels.


Getting help


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Addiction of any kind is no joke, even exercise addiction. If you think you may have one, it’s worth getting help before it takes over even more of your life.


Let me be clear, this article in no way is meant to suggest that exercise is bad. But as with most things, moderation is key. As long as you exercise in a healthy manner, it obviously will bring a lot of health benefits to your heart, bones, and muscles. More so, it is a vital component of emotional well-being, self-confidence, and a strong sense of self-esteem.

But when someone becomes obsessed with working out, to the extent that they begin to jeopardize their health and relationships they have begun to develop an addiction. And as with all addictions, there are consequences.

Life is short. Addiction isn’t. If you feel like you may be struggling with addiction whether it be to exercise, drugs or alcohol, find an awesome therapist or life coach you like and trust to help you navigate your way out of the darkness and into a more balanced life.


James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.