Exercise and Addiction: A Surprising Partnership

Have you ever met someone who doesn’t really concentrate on anything but exercising? Maybe you are like this. You may do other things during the day (or in the evening), but all you wait for is the time when you can go out running or go to the neighborhood gym.

When you hear the word “addiction,” you probably think of drugs, gambling, alcohol or even food, and the word “addict’ conjures images of treatment centers and self-help groups.  You probably never thought about exercising in terms of addiction.

Exercise Addiction Research

But, a recent study has shown that exercise can be an addiction just like any other. And while exercise has been known to help take the cravings away from drug addicts, recent studies have shown that exercise appeals to the brain’s “reward” center, as does all other forms of addiction. And the thing about addictions is that they are not good for you. If you are to believe the outcome of the previously mentioned studies, then obviously exercising is not good for you.

Wired to Run

“Thus, a neurobiological reward for endurance exercise may explain why humans and other cursorial mammals habitually engage in aerobic exercise despite the higher associated energy costs and injury risks, and why non-cursorial mammals avoid such locomotor behaviors.”

-Raichlen et al, 2012

The past and present studies of the effects of exercise show that it’s essential and almost always intimates that the more that you exercise the better. The old studies may be starting to be eclipsed by the new ones, which show what happens if a person gets “addicted” to exercise.

If you over-exercise, there are a lot of not-so-good consequences that come with that, one of them being not getting enough rest. Excessive exercise associated with other diseases such as anorexia nervosa is even worse, as the person with such a disease is malnourished to begin with and exercising too much will put more strain on their heart, leading to possible heart attacks, or even death.

An exercise addict has to exercise more and more to achieve the same sense of gratification. When a person excessively exercises, they not only do more exercising, they do it longer. If an exercise addict is sick, she will exercise anyway. If an exercise addict is tired (even too tired), she will exercise anyway. And so the cycle continues, with the exercise addict having to “feed her craving” for more exercise because of not wanting to go through withdrawal if they do not.

[box type=”note”]Many experts believe that something is not an addiction unless it is heavily associated with withdrawal. Exercise is even considered an antidote for other addictions, because not only does it produce better physical results, it plays a big part in increasing psychological happiness, as well.[/box]

Could You Be Addicted?

Is it possible that someone does something too much, it isn’t a good thing? If you are love to exercise and don’t know if it’s possible that you love it too much, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Question #1:  If you weren’t able to exercise due to an unforeseen occurrence, would it make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Question #2: Does living without exercise for any particular length of time – a day, a week, a year – cause you to go into a bit of panic?
  • Question #3: Would you be unhappy and feel bereft at the end of the day if you had done absolutely no exercise?
  • Question #4: Do you exercise because if you don’t, you won’t feel good about yourself?
  • Question #5: Do you go through your day just waiting for the time that you can go to the gym or work out?
  • Question #6: Is exercise the top priority in your life?
  • Question #7: Do you ever miss social functions or not participate in family activities because you “have to exercise?”
  • Question #8: Do you exercise even when you are in pain?
  • Question #9: Do you find that you would rather exercise alone so as to not attract attention from others?
  • Question #10: Do you ever skip work, school, or family events so that you can exercise?

[box type=”important”]If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may want to talk to someone and see if you have and/or are developing an unhealthy relationship with exercise.[/box]

Exercise addicts have one or more reasons to excessively do so. They may have an overly fierce drive to make sure that they do not gain weight and want to control their body so that they do not feel physically inferior, they may exercise because they are scared of the way they feel when they do not, or they may just exercise for the “high.”

If you and/or someone you know feels like exercise is not just for pleasure and fitness anymore, then seek out the advice of a professional. Whether the experts agree on the premise of exercise being an addiction, it is definitely possible to do things too much and exercise is one of those things.

 Author Bio:

This post was written by Francine Conte. Francine is a consultant at a dual diagnosis treatment center, and has over 5 years of experience helping those battling the demons of addiction and mental illness live a clean and healthy life.


  1. Raichlen DA, Foster AD, Gerdeman GL, Seillier A, Giuffrida A.  Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high’.  J Exp Biol. 2012 Apr 15;215(Pt 8):1331-6.

Jon W

Jon works with various authors who are all experts in various health related fields. It is his goal to help share there knowledge, insights and experiences with others.

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