Exercise Addiction: Are You in Control?

10339720_707112604160_6543443041004247479_nWhen I am training for a road race or trying to stick to a strict lifting routine for derby, I inevitably have days that I just don’t feel like working out – so I change my workout plan. Maybe I just do yoga for 30 minutes instead of running 5 miles. Maybe I do a silly 5-minute ab routine from YouTube instead of going to that 1-hour fitness class at my gym.  Maybe I just sit outside and read.

Making these occasional changes to your workout routine is completely acceptable. It should not be an excuse every day, but when my body is tired, I’m dreading going to the gym, or I just run out of time in my day, I change up my workout plan. Fitness is my friend and it will be there when I need it.

However, there was a time in my life when my relationship with fitness was not so buddy-buddy. After college, I started training for triathlons year-round.  I would frequently work out twice a day and was in line at the pool every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5 a.m. to get my swim workout in. I worked out 7 days a week and physically, I was in the best shape of my life.

For some people, this may seem awesome. Workin’ out all of the time!  Getting super buff and in shape!  Loving being sweaty in the gym 24/7!

320490_255913361108979_7315562_nBut for me, there was a dark side to this obsession with being so physically fit.  The thought of skipping a workout or changing my fitness plan began to cause me an unbelievable amount of anxiety. I would get upset when my husband wanted to take me on a date if it interfered with my workout plan. I would lose sleep and exhaust my body because I just HAD to get that long run in. I would be in tears if I had to work late or if something came up that made me adjust my fitness routine.  It became so overwhelming that I finally realized something needed to change.  I needed to take a step back and assess my relationship with exercise.

In roller derby, you have to keep yourself accountable for working out when you are not at practice.  Many people have a hard time even getting themselves to go to the gym or to go outside for a run.  So the thought of being addicted to exercise might seem far-fetched for a lot of you reading this.  However, if anything I’ve mentioned above seems to strike a chord with you, it might be a good time to consider how you can both maintain a fitness routine AND be happy doing so.

Here is an adaptation of a brief, reliable, and valid questionnaire you can take to assess your relationship with exercise:


If you scored over 24 on this questionnaire you are at risk of exercise addiction.  This does not mean you are addicted to exercise, but you might want to think about how you feel towards exercise and what motivates you to work out.  Scoring a 13-23 means you are slightly symptomatic (so just be aware if your attitude towards exercise changes). However, this is just a tool to help you assess your relationship with exercise. If you don’t score a 24 but feel like exercise is taking over, you may need to consider seeking outside help.

10565259_10152916226285219_1930754802186023157_nSo what do you do if you think you might have an unhealthy relationship with exercise? Get counseling from a professional.  Exercise addiction is just as real and important as any other type of addiction, so it should be treated with the same type of care.   If you absolutely don’t want to see a counselor, or don’t have access to one, there are help groups online.  Our lives are already full of anxiety-inducing moments.  Let exercise be your buddy, not one of the enemies!

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One Response to Exercise Addiction: Are You in Control?

  1. This is a very sensible post that has good advice in it for anyone struggling with an exercise addiction. Of course exercise addiction is real it is linked to eating disorders in many people. I have never had an addiction to exercise but because I have had an eating disorder since the age of 7 I have often compulsively exercised when I feel I have eaten too much or want to lose weight. When I was in rehab and they said they would throw me out if I made myself sick I developed exercise bulimia instead. I have a friend who lives in a tower block and I would sometimes have to visit her just so I could run up and down the 20 flights of stairs because the gym was closed! Even as a child I would compulsively exercise for hours on end. Any repetitive activity that is harmful to you or your relationships qualifies as an addiction and there are many people whose relationships suffer because of their obsession with exercise. I haven’t compulsively exercised for over 6 months now and have not made myself sick since July 2009 so my eating disorder and compulsive exercise are in good recovery. But they are definitely not cured!


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