Thalpos-Mental Health

When exercise becomes an addiction

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When exercise becomes an addiction

From psychologist of the Rehabilitation Unit "Thalpos Attica" Maria Makridaki.

In today's society, of fast-paced and sedentary lifestyle, most of us struggle to find some time for physical exercise. It true that it is a matter of health to integrate workout in our daily routine and many people have managed to do it. But, even if we start with these good intentions, what happens when we go out of control and increase the intensity of exercise as well as the time we spend on it? When the role of exercise becomes more important than anything else in our lives and when our favorite activity disrupts our interpersonal and professional life? Then, exercise becomes no longer a choice of well-being, but an addiction.

Try and ask yourself if the following apply to you: If you do not go to the gym one day, do you feel guilty? Do you continue exercising even if you are injured? Do you dedicate your free time only to the gym? Are you going to the gym instead of being with your friends and family during special occasions? Do you spend lots of money on various programs regarding your exercise? Do you feel happy only when you are in the gym? Do you hide how much time you spend in the gym from your friends? Do you practice in unusual places and in strange hours? Do you have the feeling that the exercise you do is not enough?

This particular addiction leads individual’s social and personal life to very low levels. In other words, the time the individual spends in the gym becomes his social life. People who are addicted to the gym are withdrawn from family and friends in order not to lose a planned workout, while their work or their studies become less important. Exercise is no longer a healthy and enjoyable experience but a compulsion. The way they feel about themselves is determined by the time of their hard training. These people usually have low self-esteem, very poor body image, are overwhelmed with anxiety about their weight and experience anxiety and depression. Such compulsive exercise is often associated with impaired eating habits and accompanies eating disorders such as Nervous Anorexia and Nervous Bulimia.

Unfortunately, the risks of injuries and permanent damages of the musculoskeletal system are quite large. Also, pushing the body beyond its limits without allowing itself to rest or recover after an injury leads to exhaustion, weakens the immune system and becomes prone to infections. Especially in women, hormonal balance is mostly affected, disrupting menstrual cycle, causing fertility problems and osteoporosis. In addition, when body is subjected to such intense exercise it also needs great nutritional coverage, thus in its effort to find energy it ends up breaking down its muscular mass. Food restriction combined with excessive exercise could become dangerous, even fatal, as in some cases of anorexia nervosa.

Special therapists can help the addicted person better understand the reasons that led him to this behavior, in order to recognize the role that exercise plays in his life and to put limits, rebuilding his interpersonal, social and professional life.


Long,C.G (1995) Assessment and management of eating disordered patients who over-exercise: A four-year-follow-up of six single case studies. Journal of Mental Health. 4, 309-316.