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What Is Compulsive Exercising?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

Compulsive exercising is an ongoing, consistent pattern of exercise that in some way compromises the physical or mental health of the exerciser. It may also interfere with the exerciser's normal family and work responsibilities. The phenomenon of compulsive exercising can take on many forms and may be a component of a serious eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, or it may be experienced by the exerciser as an addiction. Diagnosis and treating this condition can be a challenge, as it can be difficult to distinguish between a disciplined approach to healthy living and behavior that is compulsive, dangerous, and destructive.

Some forms of compulsive exercising are associated with eating disorders, and in such cases the compulsion to exercise may be called exercise bulimia. When connected to an eating disorder, the compulsion to exercise stems from concern about burning off calories and reducing or maintaining weight. In some cases, a person with an eating disorder may binge on large quantities of food and then engage in compulsive exercising to address the calorie surplus. Athletes may over-train as a way of demonstrating their commitment to their sport.

Compulsive exercising may be part of an eating disorder.
Compulsive exercising may be part of an eating disorder.

Addiction experts are conflicted as to whether compulsive exercising can properly be considered an addiction. Some have argued that the endorphins released during exercise are akin to painkilling drugs and may well trigger an addiction in some people. Others are skeptical of this approach and may look for other causes of compulsive exercising. In both cases, treatment may include evaluations for eating disorders and perhaps mental health treatment for addiction or compulsive behaviors.

Symptoms of compulsive exercising include a willingness to exercise to the point of extreme exhaustion.
Symptoms of compulsive exercising include a willingness to exercise to the point of extreme exhaustion.

One significant challenge in dealing with compulsive exercising is that many people who engage in this behavior may appear to be healthy and may, in fact, be the focus of admiration from those who regard their dedication to an exercise routine as admirable. As such, individuals as well as their families and mental health professionals may wish to pay attention to potential signs that a person has a compulsive exercise disorder. The symptoms may include a willingness to routinely exercise to the point of extreme exhaustion, exercising in a way that causes pain or injury to the body, as well as the compulsion to exercise to the degree that a person's personal and professional responsibilities are neglected. Another significant symptom that someone may be addicted to exercise is an extreme and inappropriate emotional reaction to not having the opportunity to engage in his or her normal exercise routine.

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    • Compulsive exercising may be part of an eating disorder.
      By: Ken Hurst
      Compulsive exercising may be part of an eating disorder.
    • Symptoms of compulsive exercising include a willingness to exercise to the point of extreme exhaustion.
      By: expressiovisual
      Symptoms of compulsive exercising include a willingness to exercise to the point of extreme exhaustion.
    • Frequent jogging may be a symptom of compulsive exercising.
      By: puhhha
      Frequent jogging may be a symptom of compulsive exercising.
    • People who engage in compulsive exercise typically push themselves beyond their limits.
      By: Helder Almeida
      People who engage in compulsive exercise typically push themselves beyond their limits.