Exercise Addiction is Not Only Real – It Can Be Very Dangerous

By Thomas Nemel

This post may trigger those who suffer from disordered eating, body dysmorphia, or exercise addiction.

Some fitness fans suffer from an unhealthy addiction to exercise. Exercise addiction is an obsession with any form of fitness or physical exercising despite negative consequences. While regular exercising is generally a healthy activity, exercise addiction involves excessive amounts of fitness sessions to the detriment of your personal and professional life, or even physical health. 

People who suffer from this disorder will exercise regardless of physical injury or pain. In other words, it’s a state of severe dependence on regular workouts. However, sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish the first symptoms or differentiate between healthy exercise behavior and additive one. 

We’ve teamed with experts to discuss this concern, explain exercise addiction effects, and how to get help. 

What Causes An Exercise Addiction?

One of the common causes of exercise addiction is the desire to lose weight and/or attain a certain body shape or size, this reason is hiding in the open. However, researchers agree that the roots of this disorder lie deeper, and contributing factors here are physical, psychological, social, and cultural issues. Although each person has his/her own reasons why addiction becomes a problem, scientists identify the most prevalent of them. 

A desire for endorphins: During an intense workout, the body releases hormones of pleasure – endorphins– which cause euphoric feelings similar to those opiate addicts experience when high. Getting that euphoric feeling back, more and more intense exercise is needed.

Low self-esteem: Individuals with low self-esteem need positive comments about their appearance from other people, that’s why they’re ready to make many sacrifices. They are often prone to eating disorders or exercise addiction.

Body image disorders: When a person believes that they are fat, when actual weight isn’t a problem, it means that they suffer from a distorted self-image. Obviously, it can lead to exercise addiction and even mental illness.

Anxiety and depression: Fitness sessions are proven mood-boosters. Therefore, excessive exercise can be a self-treatment for uncomfortable symptoms. If they need to miss their fitness session, they may feel anxious, sad, or guilty. Compulsive exercisers might use extreme workouts as a method to enhance gym performance and/or achieve a desired weight or body shape.  

Exercise Addiction And Eating Disorders

Exercise addiction is often linked to eating disorders. In fact, there is a proven relationship between them. A person with eating disorders is too self-critical and excessively focused on their weight and caloric intake. To manage extreme weight loss intentions, such a person can easily adopt an obsessive workout routine. This leads to constant anxiety and exercise addiction.

Below there are common types of eating disorders that can occur in conjunction with exercise addiction. 

Bulimia – it’s a state when a person consumes too much food at a time, after that they may vomit or purge to reduce caloric intake. Other ways of calorie restriction are water pills, diuretics, fasting, and excessive exercise. 

Anorexia nervosa – because of a distorted body image, a person can starve themselves by severely limiting food and caloric intake. Purging or vomiting can also accompany eating. Individuals with anorexia may use stimulants, pills, and fad diets. An anorexic often becomes a compulsive exerciser since it’s a good way for them to lose more weight and lessen the caloric effects of eating.

Orthorexia – it’s an avoidant disorder when a person refuses to eat certain products or groups of products and additives. Orthorexia is often closely linked with exercise addiction. 

Binge eating disorder – it’s uncontrolled eating not followed by vomiting or purging. A person suffering from this disorder feels too guilty. While struggling, he/she can alternate binges with exercise addiction and/or fad dieting. 

See Also

As you can see eating disorders and exercise addiction are often coexisting problems. They both can lead to serious health problems at best and death at worst.

Exercise Addiction Symptoms

At first glance, a compulsive exerciser may seem to be the picture of health: regular participation in contests or competitions, strong muscles, lean limbs, and overall fit body. But later you may notice that the person is too wrapped up in fitness goals and continues to get involved even though the signs to stop are obvious. As we’ve already found out, exercise addiction influences mental health, and you should be concerned if you see the following symptoms and signs in you or someone you love:

  • The only way to feel good is to exercise as much as possible, whatever happens. 
  • Participating in multiple workouts or fitness classes per day.
  • Exercising even after sustaining a trauma 
  • Fitness sessions interfere with professional or personal obligations
  • When exercising isn’t possible, a person can feel anxious or even depressed.
  • A person feels exhausted instead of strong since muscles are never allowed to rest and recover. 
  • A person is obsessed with his/her weight and appearance.
  • An addicted individual ignores other activities and friends to concentrate on fitness sessions.
  • A person expresses dissatisfaction with the intensity of their workouts, even if they are already intense.
  • Exercise addiction affects health, and an individual suffers from obvious physical and mental problems. 

Exercise Addiction Consequences

Both psychological and physical negative effects of exercise addiction may be really dangerous, unfortunately, they often threaten the addict’s life. The consequences may include:

  • Depression
  • Cognitive distortion when a compulsive exerciser justifies their excessive workout routine. Habits may include over-generalization, discounting, superstitious thinking, black and white thinking, and associating extreme overtraining habits with long-term happiness.
  • Problems with menstruation in women
  • Eating disorders
  • Heart problems, scarring of the heart muscle. It causes improper function and heart attacks. Endurance athletes are at risk, they’re more likely to have scarring of the heart muscle.
  • Severe bone loss and stress fractures. Bone loss is a serious issue, especially for older women; however, it increases the risk of injuries for all genders and age groups.
  • Damage to muscles and joints that limit the capacity for movement.
  • Nearly all addicted exercisers suffer from so-called overtraining syndrome. They often live with consistent soreness, muscle strain, and other chronic injuries, e.g. tendinitis. Compulsive exercisers insist that if they don’t work so hard, their gym performance will suffer or they’ll gain weight. They believe that even a small break from the training will make them unable to stay at the same level.   

Final Thoughts

Exercise addiction is a serious health issue that requires the intervention of close people, someone like a coach, relative, or a friend who can recognize the warning symptoms and seeks professional help.    

Remember that eating disorders and exercise addiction are hazardous and life-threatening if left untreated. 

About the Author:

The author of the article is Thomas Nemel. He is a passionate writer, a gym junkie and a car lover. Thomas is one of the authors at gym-expert.com, he loves to write articles about health to motivate people to live a healthier life.

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