Exercise Addiction: How to Control it

Regularly doing exercise is a very healthy habit that any health professional would recommend. However, it can become a problem if your whole life revolves around it. Keep reading to discover more about exercise addiction.
Exercise Addiction: How to Control it

Last update: 05 April, 2021

Regularly doing physical exercise is an important habit for good health. However, everything is bad in excess. And this becomes problematic when it becomes exercise addiction.

Exercises addiction or vigorexia refers to a compulsive desire to exercise or a dependency on physical activity to feel good. Additionally, and similarly to other addictions, not being able to do exercise may cause withdrawal symptoms such as feelings of irritability, anxiety, or aggression.

This behavior has negative consequences for the person. It doesn’t just increase the risk of injury but also causes problems for them when it comes to their inner circle: their trainer, friends, family… For that reason, in this article, we’ll tell you what exercise addiction is and how you can beat it.

So, what’s exercise addiction?

Generally speaking, exercise addiction causes emotional reactions that are similar to any kind of addictive behavior. However, people experiencing it may also present the following problems:

  • The need to constantly do exercise and increase without controlling the frequency, intensity, or volume of the weights.
  • Dedicating an excessive amount of time to training.
  • Development of very intense negative emotions when not training.
  • Abandoning other daily activities to train instead.
  • Continuation of training even when experiencing pain or with an injury.

How to control exercise addition

two people using ropes in the gym

The good news for those who suffer from exercise addiction is that it’s possible to control and overcome it. However, to do this, the athlete must actively make an effort and be highly motivated. To make this process easier, below, we’ll offer some practical advice.

1. Identify and recognize that exercise addiction is a problem

The first step to overcome an addiction is to recognize that the behavior is harmful and damaging to a person. Without this level of self-awareness, it’s not possible to progress onto the next stages of intervention.

There are several questionnaires online that will allow someone to evaluate their level of exercise addiction they’re suffering from. For example, here are two well-known options:

The biggest advantage of evaluation questionnaires is that they’re really easy to use and apply. It’s easy to find both of these on the internet and they give valid and trustworthy answers that’ll allow you to measure your level of risk of developing an exercise addiction.

2. Stay in contact with the people close to you

When someone suffers an addiction, it’s common for them to avoid people in their inner circle. Ultimately, the lives of these people revolve around exercise and they stop doing daily tasks in order to train.

Other peoples’ support is a key pillar when it comes to beating addiction. Overall, this is because they’re able to actively listen and empathize which can calm and comfort the person affected. Furthermore, they’re a great help when it comes to connecting the affected person with health care professionals, such as doctors or psychologists.

3. Reduce irrational thoughts and beliefs

With addiction, there’s a multitude of negative thoughts and beliefs whose only purpose is to feed and maintain the disorder. However, changing the way you think isn’t easy. These thoughts become rooted in the person’s mind.

woman practicing yoga, sitting on living room floor in gym wear

Beliefs such as, “I have to train to my absolute limit every day.” Or, “If I spend even one day not training, I will lose my physical form.” Don’t correspond with reality. They’re an important source of the frustration people may feel if they’re suffering from exercise addiction.

The solution here is to do what psychologists call cognitive restructuring. By which we mean, reign in those thoughts and try to see them from a more rational, less emotional perspective.

Enjoy exercise in a healthy way

Doing exercise should be a pleasant and enjoyable experience. When it gets to the point where it causes psychological discomfort or it interferes with other aspects of your life, you may need to reevaluate the role physical activity plays in your routines.

Overall, beating an addiction is no easy process, but of course, it’s necessary if you want to return to the better state of mental health and well-being that we all deserve.

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  • Bados, A., y García, E. (2010). La técnica de la reestructuración cognitiva. Departamento de Personalidad, Evaluación y Tratamiento Psicológicos. Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de Barcelona, 15.
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  • Szabo, A., y Griffiths, M. D. (2004). The exercise addiction inventory: A new brief screening tool. Addiction research and theory, 12(5), 489-499.