Compulsive exercising

Drug abuse and addiction / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 5th 2014

What is compulsive exercising / exercise addiction?

Exercise is a vital activity for all human beings, and statistics show clearly that the average person does not exercise enough. Nevertheless, some people exercise to the point that it is actually destructive, and find it hard to abstain from this compulsion, no matter what the reason.

Of course, not everybody requires the same level of exercise. A corporate executive with a busy life and three kids might find that they are quite satisfied to allow themselves to feel healthy on 3 hours a week, whereas a professional sportsman might average more hours than this on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, some signs of someone exercising compulsively might include the following:

  • exercising regardless of injuries, tiredness or illness
  • consistently injury, including fatigue, soreness and stiffness
  • feeling guilty or depressed when they don’t exercise
  • making exercise a priority over personal relationships
  • hormonal changes, including decreased testosterone in males, and increased production of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress that can cause the breakdown of bone, leading to an increased risk of stress fractures and osteoporosis
  • muscle wasting
  • feeling ‘withdrawal symptoms’ such as irritability when unable to exercise
  • feeling like their job or relationships get in the way of exercise
  • ignoring the concerns of friends and family about their attitude to exercise
  • missing school, studies or work to exercise

  • Physical risks of exercise addiction

  • Immune dysfunction: Excessive exercise without adequate recovery stresses the body, decreasing immune function and increasing the chance of respiratory infection.
  • Reproductive health problems: Women whose body-fat levels fall below 13 to 17 percent can stop menstruating, a condition called amenorrhoea. When a woman is experiencing amenorrhoea, she is infertile. Amenorrhoea caused by excessive exercise is generally reversible when body-fat returns to normal, but can sometimes lead to chronic fertility problems. Normal levels are usually above 20 percent.
  • Mood and cognition problems: People who exercise too much can suffer from withdrawal symptoms including sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, confusion and difficulty concentrating when they miss a day of exercise.
  • Bone health: Both men and women who exercise too much are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis and stress fractures. Women can suffer irreversible bone loss if they are not menstruating.
  • Soft-tissues injuries: Avoiding rest or treatment for injuries can result in chronic damage to connective tissue. People who exercise too much also experience muscle soreness when they do not exercise. Instead of building muscle, too much exercise can destroy muscle mass, especially if the body is not getting enough nutrition, forcing it to break down muscle for energy.
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