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Am I Addicted to Exercise?

Exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle. It is especially helpful in recovery. It strengthens the heart and lungs and helps the body heal. It reduces stress and helps alleviate anxiety and depression. As with everything else, though, you can take exercise too far. People sometimes become addicted to exercise, especially endurance exercise like running and biking. This is very much a real addiction. People addicted to exercise obsess over it and spend all their free time exercising, to the detriment of other parts of their lives. It might damage their health and they experience withdrawal if they don’t exercise.

Anyone in recovery is particularly vulnerable to exercise addiction. This is called a transfer addiction. You are used to getting a dopamine reward from addictive behavior and you miss that reward when you quit. It’s much easier to substitute a new addiction rather forgo the reward entirely. Endurance exercise gives some people a runner’s high, which is thought to be caused by endocannabinoids in the brain. In other words, chemically, running is similar to using marijuana. This is why you’ll sometimes see people get sober and start running 10 miles a day. It looks like a miraculous turnaround, but it may be just another addiction.

If you are in recovery, the signs of exercise addiction will be pretty obvious if you know to look for them. Instead of thinking about drugs or alcohol all the time, you think about exercise. You feel compelled to exercise, even if you’re sick or hurt. You spend all your free time doing it and you ignore your friends and family. The most important thing is you attitude toward exercise. You know better than anyone whether it feels like a choice or a compulsion. If it feels like a compulsion, take some time off and see how you feel.

Keeping exercise within healthy bounds is not terribly difficult. The most important thing is to set boundaries. An hour a day plus regular activity like chores or walking around is plenty for most people. If you just want to be healthy and are prone to addiction, it’s probably good to set an hour limit. You would only need more than that if you were training for competition, in which case you should have a specific training plan. For most competitive athletes, these plans are designed to keep them from doing too much rather than too little.

If you think exercise has become an addiction, take a few days off. Talk to your addiction counselor. Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, so you shouldn’t eliminate it entirely, but rather find a way of setting healthy boundaries. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.