Signs of Compulsive Exercise

By Tim Fulton


We often think of certain things as black or white, good or bad. Exercise is no different. Normally, we associate exercise as being good for you, but there are instances where excessive or unhealthy attitudes towards exercise can be detrimental to physical health and psychological well-being.

Compulsive exercise, also referred to exercise addiction, describes an inability or unwillingness to reduce or stop exercise even if it is detrimental to health. Compulsive exercise is often found among people experiencing or with a history of eating disorders.

Although everyone’s journey is unique, there are some common signs that might help to identify if you may be struggling with compulsive exercise. Firstly, people often report feeling a loss of control. This may feel like an inability to control the urge to exercise or to stop exercise for a significant period of time. For example, you may find it difficult to rest following an injury and subsequently exercise without it fully healing.

Secondly, compulsive exercisers may spend a large amount of time engaging in, planning for and thinking about exercise. This may result in spending less time on other activities such as spending less time with friends. For example, compulsive exercisers will often go for longer durations or further distances without an intention to do so, leaving less time for other activities.

Similar to other addictions, compulsive exercise is also characterised by symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance refers to the need to exercise more often, for greater durations or at higher intensities in order to feel the desired effects to the same degree as you originally did. Lastly, any period of absence of exercise may induce symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms may include a feeling or restlessness, irritability or anxiety during a period without exercise.

Experiencing compulsive exercise can be very distressing. Recently, Esquire Magazine published an article that tells the story of man that compulsively exercises. He has travelled the world but his thoughts and urges to exercise have led him to spend hours in the gym on these trips rather than enjoying the amazing sights on offer. For those experiencing eating disorders, exercise compulsion is not uncommon. I’m sure his story will resonate with many of you.

BodyMatters is proud to be running a LEAP workshop on Saturday the 14th October aimed at overcoming exercise compulsion and achieving a more positive relationship with exercise. For more information or to register visit the BodyMatters website or email us at Registrations close on Saturday October 2nd. Places are limited and our last LEAP workshop sold out, so if you’re interested make sure you register ASAP!

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