How To Recognize An Unhealthy Relationship With Exercise? Clear Expert Advice In 2021


Do you find yourself canceling plans with others in order to work out or desperately trying to offset what you’ve eaten with exercise? We all know the various benefits of exercise on physical and mental health, but when does exercise start to become a problem?

For many individuals, a relationship with exercise serves as a positive outlet for managing stress and maintaining health and fitness. However, for some, engaging in an exercise becomes unhealthy and obsessive over time. When exercise becomes a source of distress and negatively impacts one’s quality of life, it is crucial to pay attention to it.

In this article, we will look at the signs and symptoms of compulsive exercise, the consequences of overexercise, and what to do if you believe your relationship with exercise has become unhealthy.

What Is Compulsive Exercise?

Relationship with Exercise

Compulsive exercise (or exercise addiction) can be thought of as preoccupation with exercising excessively despite the negative impact it may have on a person’s life. An individual who becomes addicted to exercise may spend many hours a day working out, neglecting other areas of life such as work or school and their relationships. 

It is common for an individual with an exercise addiction to opt to work out, even if they are injured, sick or exhausted. Taking time off from their exercise regimen may create overwhelming feelings of guilt or anxiety.

Though compulsive exercise is not recognized as a distinct diagnosis, it is commonly linked to other mental disorders. There is often a component of compulsive exercise present in eating disorders, as studies show that 39-48% of people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa also excessively exercise. For more information about various eating disorders and their signs/symptoms, visit Mind Diagnostics.

Research has found the prevalence of exercise addiction to be around 3% in the general population. However, this percentage tends to be much higher among competitive athletes. Other risk factors for developing an unhealthy relationship with exercise include body image disturbances, muscle dysmorphia, having an ‘addictive personality, and certain personality traits such as perfectionism and neuroticism. 

Warning Signs Of Compulsive Exercise

Relationship with Exercise

Recognizing the signs of compulsive exercise is the first step towards seeking appropriate support. There are numerous signs and symptoms of an unhealthy relationship with exercise that you might look out for, which include:

  • Unhealthy preoccupation with the need to exercise
  • Over-exercising to the point of injury or exhaustion
  • Exercising even if injured or sick
  • The presence of anxiety or mental distress if unable to exercise
  • Using exercise as a punishment for eating or as ‘permission’ to eat
  • Increased withdrawal from others
  • Problems with relationships or work/school due to excessive exercise

Harmful Effects Of Excessive Exercise

Relationship with Exercise

There are many potential consequences of excessive exercises, such as chronic muscle soreness, bone/joint pain, ongoing fatigue, extreme weight loss, and loss of menstrual cycle (in women). Overexercising also increases one risk of experiencing an injury such as a stress fracture.

Exercise addiction also takes a significant mental toll, spurring preoccupied thoughts around needing to exercise as well as increased anxiety or depression when unable to exercise or trying to limit physical activity. It is common for compulsive exercise to negatively impact other areas of life, putting strain on one’s relationships and the ability to carry out daily responsibilities.

Seeking Support For Exercise Addiction To Improve Relation With Exercise

If you believe your relationship with exercise may be unhealthy, consider reaching out for support from a mental health professional. Working with a therapist can be beneficial for exploring the underlying roots of exercise addiction and moving towards a healthier relationship with exercise that supports overall wellness. 


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