Is there an addiction to physical exercise?


If we think about exercise or physical activity, something positive and at the same time healthy comes to mind. But the truth is that, although it may be paradoxical, when we talk about this healthy and regular practice as it is the exercise, it is also possible to include in certain minority cases what is known as exercise addiction.

The cult of the body, perfect beauty ideals and excessive concern for optimal health are some factors that can lead the person to take the behavior of exercise to unsuspected limits to become an obsession and thus develop a possible disease.

We know of the multiple physical and emotional benefits for our health that exercise can offer, among which we highlight the prevention of numerous pathologist. But there is also ample evidence of how compulsive or excessive exercise can turn into addictive behavior with serious health risks.

How this addiction is classified

Under the term “exercise addiction” or exercise dependence we can find:

  • The primary addiction to exercise, which is not classified as a mental disorder as such, but as a condition in which the person engages in excessive exercise becoming an addictive behavior as such. Here we must highlight some of the corresponding characteristics of an addictive behavior, among which we find: dependence, lack of internal control and negative effects on health as well as other addictions described as addiction to tobacco or alcohol.
  • The addiction to exercise classified as secondary, very common in the context of eating disorders, where exercise is used excessively or compulsively. In these cases, excessive exercise acts as a maintenance symptom of the eating disorder.
  • The addiction to exercise, despite being a known disorder for decades, is not yet contemplated in the DSM-5. In any case, we speak of addiction to exercise in general terms applied to those people in which the exercise becomes an obligation or is performed in excess, forgetting the pleasurable function or enjoyment as a healthy practice. As a consequence, the behavior implies risks to health and has an addictive component.

Alarm signs and characteristics of physical exercise addiction

There are multiple studies that have provided useful and clarifying knowledge to understand what we can consider a case of exercise addiction. Such cases are characterized by the presence of:

  • very high frequency and intensity in the practice of the exercise that harms the state of health or compromises it.
  • Tendency to not respect the days of physical rest.
  • Over-training or over-effort behaviors, such as: doubling training or practicing several sessions in the same day.
  • Health risk behaviors such as performing training contraindicated by the presence of injuries or sporadic diseases.
  • Appearance of compulsive thoughts to practice exercise continuously.
  • The exercise becomes the main center of the person’s life or his daily life begins to organize or revolve around this practice.
  • Physical and especially psychological and emotional symptoms in situations of deprivation or inability to exercise (known as withdrawal syndrome).
  • Deficiencies appear in certain areas of the person’s life as a result of excessive dedication to physical exercise.
  • Inability to carry vital functions with some normality.
  • Excessive concern when the exercise cannot be carried out as desired.
  • Lack of control and excessive rigidity in the behavior applied to physical exercise.

Therefore, the addiction to exercise requires an approach based on a psycho-therapeutic intervention and in the treatment it is fundamental that the person can become aware of the adverse effects that excessive exercise is causing in all aspects of his life, and how they diminish. Its quality of it.


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