Exercise addiction refers to the presence of an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise. Whilst usually accompanied by some form of eating disorder, exercise addiction is recognised as a medical condition in its own right. Unfortunately, very few people are even aware that it exists because it is rarely reported on.
Exercise can be likened to alcohol. In the same way that most of the population can enjoy a drink every now and again without becoming addicted, so too can most people enjoy exercise without it becoming an addiction. The issue is when it is taken too far and done to excess, which can lead to detrimental impacts on ones mental and physical health.
In terms of the impact of exercise addiction on a person’s physical health, a common lasting consequence is a loss of bone density, often referred to as ‘Osteopenia’ in the early stages. Osteopenia for most people is an irreversible condition that can impact on the day to day lives of those effected, making them more prone to fractures/breaking bones. In women, exercise addiction can also lead to amenorrhea, that is the loss of the menstrual cycle. This can cause all sorts of problems, including issues with fertility, as well as overall health.
Similarly, mental health is also put under immense strain when a person is struggling with their relationship with exercise. Every thought is consumed by it. Even when they’re not exercising, they’re thinking about it- thinking; ‘when can I next go for a run and how far will I go?’ Exercise is what makes them feel safe, so without it, they don’t know how they will make it through the next minute, let alone the next day.
Just like addicts and alcoholics, the only way to overcome addiction is to resist temptation. Therefore, when someone with an exercise addiction feels compelled to, say, go for a run, they must refuse to listen to that voice in their heads, by doing the complete opposite to what their mind is convincing them they should be doing. This is easier said than done, though. Because similarly to the loss of control an alcoholic will experience when they don’t have access to alcohol, or a drug addict will feel when they’re awaiting their next fix, people struggling with exercise addiction, when denied the opportunity to exercise, feel their tight grip on control loosening, which is an incredibly daunting prospect to comprehend.
Exercise addiction is a very real problem and it needs to be discussed more. What has your experience with exercise been? Let’s start a conversation, raise awareness, and end the stigma attached to mental health.