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Rhonda Stanton, Psychologist, Psychology Consultants
Regular exercise is recommended by experts the world over because of the range of benefits for physical and mental health. Campaigns encourage us to exercise more and be physically active but for some, too much exercise can be unhealthy.
So how do you know when your desire to be fit and healthy crosses the line to obsession?
There is disagreement within the health field regarding whether exercise addiction is a true addiction or rather, being obsessed with the idea of, and compelled to exercise. Exercise addiction was not included in the DSM-5, one of the main sources for classifying psychiatric disorders.
Generally, a person who exercises excessively has blurred the line between what is healthy and what is obsessive. There are a number of features that distinguish between healthy and excessive exercise.
Those that exercise excessively often find it difficult to balance exercise with other life areas because of a preoccupation with exercise, often, neglecting other important roles and responsibilities in life such as family, work or socialising.
Exercise is an important strategy to prevent and manage stress, although if exercise is the principle way of coping, you may experience emotional discomfort if prevented from exercising.
Another concern would be if a person continues to exercise despite injury and who are unable to allow themselves time to recover.
But I’m exercising the same amount as an athlete and they aren’t considered addicted to exercise…
There are many people who love working out and playing sport. In determining whether a person has crossed over into an unhealthy range, depends in part on the individual and their reasons for exercising. For example, an athlete (or weekend warrior) and a person exercising compulsively may both share a similar training volume but have different attitudes to exercise. Athletes sometimes need to push on and train when they don’t feel like it to meet their goals. However, they include regular recovery periods in their training plan and tend to value and schedule time for family, work and socialising. They also adjust their training if injured.
It should be noted that an obsessive focus on exercise can be associated with poor body image and eating disorders.
Keeping the equilibrium of life can be difficult especially when health messages contradict each other from one day to the next.
Look within to know what is right for you and your family and acknowledge when you may need to regain some perspective. If you are experiencing the signs of compulsive exercise, speaking to a professional counsellor may help you get back on track, to develop a healthier relationship to exercise or yourself.