Perhaps the most misunderstood of all types of addiction, exercise addiction can have some deep-rooted mental and physical effects if ignored. It’s harder to diagnose but easier to treat than most other forms of addiction but naturally, the first question should be – what is exercise addiction?

What is exercise addiction?

Exercise addiction is an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise. It’s often a result of body image disorders and eating disorders. Exercise addicts display traits similar to those of other addicts, which include:

  • obsessing over the behaviour
  • engaging in the behaviour even though it’s causing physical harm
  • engaging in the behaviour despite wanting to stop
  • engaging in the behaviour in secret.

How to diagnose exercise addiction?

When I first heard of exercise addiction, my initial thought was ‘what’s wrong with that’? And naturally, most ‘addicts’ don’t see anything wrong with their behaviour. Some say that it becomes an addiction when you start decreasing your social activities in order to exercise, cancelling plans and putting everything else as a lower priority. But unless someone’s behaviour is harming others, isn’t it their right to do so?

A recent study

Based out of the Netherlands, a UniSA affiliate, Professor Jan de Jonge and his team did a recent study around the topic of excessive running. They had the following to say.

Obsessively passionate runners disregarded the need to recover after training and failed to mentally detach from the sport, even when running became harmful. Their approach to running delivered short-term gains such as faster times but resulted in more running-related injuries.
 
Age and gender played a part. The older runners were able to mentally detach and recover a lot faster after a run than those in the 20-34 age group – especially females – who were more prone to running-related injuries.
 
“Most running-related injuries are sustained as a result of overtraining and overuse or failing to adequately recover, merely due to an obsessive passion for running,” Prof de Jonge says.
 
“The majority of research focuses on the physical aspects of overtraining and lack of recovery time, but the mental aspects of running-related injuries have been ignored to date.
 
“When running becomes obsessive, it leads to problems. It controls the person’s life at the expense of other people and activities and leads to more running-related injuries. This behaviour has also been reported in other sports, including professional dancing and cycling.”

Prevention

If you can see that your behaviour is harming others and your mental health is compromised because of your strict exercise routine, then there is no real set answer except to just limit your days of exercise. Set a schedule and stick to it. Slowly reduce the amount of exercise you do, increase the activities that nourish your mental health and seek help.

If you think you have an addictive personality, try and avoid drugs, alcohol, caffeine and any other addictive substance.

Is it really a problem?

There is no doubt that addiction to exercise can have dire effects on peoples mental health. However, once realised, this can easily be overcome without the need for professional help. Exercise and body movement keeps peoples minds active and makes us live longer more peaceful lives. This only becomes a problem if your mental health or others are put in harm.

Lachlan Cornell
Rainbear Writing