Compulsive Exercising – How much is too much?

[author title=”Laura Muth” author_id=”Laura Muth”]

From an early age, the health benefits of regular exercise have been drilled into us. However, we are rarely warned about the dangers of over-exercising, which can lead to negative health effects such as exhaustion, injuries and isolation.

Compulsive exercising is characterised by a significant amount of physical activity, combined with a compulsive need to do the activity. Literature has recognised two forms of exercise dependence; primary and secondary.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”] Primary Exercise Dependance [/custom_headline]

Primary exercise dependence refers to individuals who are addicted to exercise for intrinsic reasons associated with the activity, for example, training for a marathon.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”] Secondary Exercise Dependance [/custom_headline]

In contrast, the key motivator in secondary exercise dependence is to control and manipulate body composition. It is this type of exercise dependence that is associated with eating disorders and negative health effects.


It is important to know that an exercise compulsion does not always signify an eating disorder, but the two may certainly accompany each other. For individuals suffering from an eating disorder, compulsive exercise can act as relief from eating/bingeing or be used to help control depression and anxiety.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”] So how is compulsive exercise different to normal exercise? [/custom_headline]

The difference between exercising frequently and compulsively exercising isn’t necessarily about the duration of physical activity. The two most important factors are in fact impairment to normal functioning and withdrawal symptoms.


Admittedly, it is hard to recognise when your exercise habits become unhealthy, especially as the topic of exercise addiction has received little attention in recent years. So how can you tell if you’re addicted to exercise?


  1. Exercise is the number one priority in your life. You plan your day around your exercise routine and alter other work/social commitments to fit into this routine.
  2. You experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop exercising. Symptoms include any strong physical symptoms such as shaking.
  3. You use exercise to alter your mood. Although it is normal to report mood improvements from exercise, an over-reliance on exercise to alter mood can be unhealthy.
  4. You exercise despite illness or injury. You might put your health at risk by not resting when you should be.
  5. You may experience guilt or depression when you are unable to exercise.
  6. You may repeatedly exercise to the point of exhaustion.


If you or a loved one appears to display any of these signs of compulsive exercising, we are here to help. Reach out today.

Posted in , , , by The Recover Clinic

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