Exercise offers many benefits, including a boost in energy levels, an increase in self esteem, and an enhanced sense of physical well-being. However, it is possible to become addicted to exercise. While an addiction to exercise is fairly rare and not as dangerous as an addiction to heroin, cocaine, or other illegal drugs, it's still a problem that must be dealt with in a timely fashion.
Technically speaking, an addiction is something that is interfering with your job, relationships, or other important daily activities. If you plan your entire day around your visits to the gym, you may be addicted to exercise. If the people around you are saying they feel like your workout routine is always your top priority, you may be addicted to exercise. If you are missing your child's dance recital and canceling plans with your friends to go running, you may be addicted to exercise. It's fine to enjoy exercise, but not to the extent that you're neglecting other aspects of your life. Balance is the key to determining whether or not a behavior is a healthy habit.
Another potential way to tell if you have a problem with excessive exercising is how you feel when you skip a workout. Do you feel irritable and anxious? Do you try to punish yourself for a missed workout by pushing even harder when you return to the gym? If you have trouble allowing yourself to miss even one day of exercise, you may have a problem.
The cause of an exercise addiction is unknown. As you might expect, some people exercise excessively because they are trying to get in shape or compensate for perceived physical flaws. Others, however, simply enjoy the "runner's high" that occurs when the body releases beta-endorphins after an intense workout. Sometimes, people who are addicted to exercise may be struggling with eating disorders. Young women suffering from anorexia, for example, often develop extreme exercise regimens in an attempt to further speed up their weight loss. They will exercise for hours at a time, even if they are injured. Bulimics will also sometimes exercise for long periods to help compensate for their binge eating episodes.
If you think you may be addicted to exercise, the first step in addressing the problem is to speak to your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to evaluate your exercise habits and determine if counseling or other treatment options may be necessary.