The Role of Exercise Addiction Treatment Centers in the Recovery Process

Exercise addiction describes a compulsive disorder that compels people to exercise excessively. Simply enjoying exercise does not mean that someone has an exercise addiction. Addiction is when exercise takes over a person’s life. This disorder is also called anorexia athletica or obligatory exercise. Exercise addiction treatment centers offer compulsive exercisers the tools and support they need to regain control of their lives. To find an exercise addiction treatment program, call 1-888-287-0471 or click here to contact us.

Signs and Symptoms

Exercise-AddictionThere are several signs and symptoms of exercise addiction. One of the strongest signs that someone has an exercise addiction is an inability to concentrate on other things because he or she is always thinking about exercise. Some people with this disorder skip classes or take unpaid time off from work to exercise, which interferes with their education and reduces their income. Exercise addiction makes it difficult to carry on a satisfying social life, as people with this disorder often skip special events and activities in order to exercise. Even exercising with other people is difficult, as compulsive exercisers do not like to have their routines disturbed. They would rather exercise on their own so they can control the components and timing of the exercise session.

Exercise addiction stirs several emotions when a person is unable to exercise. Without exercising, a person may feel angry, guilty, or anxious. These feelings may also occur when a compulsive exerciser experiences a disruption in his or her exercise routine. Exercise addiction sometimes accompanies obsessive behaviors surrounding the issues of food and weight, as some exercise addicts work out excessively as a way to control their weight or body fat percentages. They may exercise to punish themselves for eating high-calorie or high-fat foods. When an exercise addict is unable to exercise, he or she may purge calories or implement excessive calorie restrictions.

Exercise addiction also plays a role in poor self-esteem. People with this type of compulsion may feel bad about themselves if they do not exercise excessively. Exercise addicts derive no pleasure from their exercise, as they never feel like they have exercised enough. In severe cases, people with exercise addiction lie about their exercise habits so others do not ask questions or point out unhealthy habits. Fortunately, exercise addiction treatment centers have the staff and resources needed to help exercise addicts determine the root causes of their compulsive behavior. Other possible symptoms of exercise addiction include the following:

  • Reduced athletic performance
  • Soreness and stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased concentration
  • Muscle wasting
  • Decreased oxygen uptake
  • Adrenal exhaustion


More research is needed to determine the true cause of exercise addiction, but scientists theorize that it is related to the release of endorphins that occurs during strenuous exercise sessions. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as natural pain relievers and stress reducers. These chemicals are produced by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland during periods of exercise, pain, excitement, and sexual activity.

The release of endorphins produces a feeling of euphoria, which may be enough to cause exercise addiction. As people with exercise addiction continue working out, they need to increase the length, frequency, or intensity of their workouts to get the same effects they used to get from normal amounts of exercise. The medical professionals at exercise addiction treatment centers have the training needed to help compulsive exercisers break free of this addiction. To find professional help, call 1-888-287-0471 or click here to contact us.

Did You Know?

Endorphins have effects similar to those of opiate drugs. This is why scientists suspect that they cause exercise addiction.

Physical Effects

“In women, excessive exercise also increases the risk for osteoporosis. “This type of addiction has both physical and psychological effects. One of the physical effects is an increased risk for injury or an increased number of exercise-related injuries. While regular exercise strengthens the muscles and bones, too much exercise increases the risk for stress fractures. In women, excessive exercise also increases the risk for osteoporosis. This is because the ovaries produce less estrogen when exposed to excessive exercise, which causes reduced bone density. Those who have existing injuries may aggravate their injuries and lengthen the amount of time needed to recover completely. The following are some examples of injuries caused by excessive exercise:

  • Joint damage
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Muscle sprains
  • Muscle strains
  • Torn muscles


Reduced bone density makes the bones soft, which makes them more prone to injuries.

Research indicates that excessive exercise may also have a detrimental effect on the heart. A 2011 article in the online version of The Journal of Applied Physiology detailed the results of a British research study aimed at studying the effects of strenuous exercise on the heart. All of the men in the study were extremely athletic and continued exercising strenuously even when they no longer competed in athletic events. The study also involved 20 healthy men who were not endurance athletes.

“…long-term endurance training may increase the risk of heart damage.”The researchers did a type of MRI that detects scarring of the heart muscle. Heart muscle scarring can lead to heart failure and abnormal heart function. Half of the endurance athletes had some degree of heart muscle scarring, but the men who were not endurance athletes did not have any scarring. The men with scarring were also those who had been training the longest and exercising the most strenuously. The results of this study indicate that long-term endurance training may increase the risk of heart damage.

Another physical concern associated with exercise addiction is the female athlete triad. This is the presence of three symptoms in women. These symptoms are as follows:

  • Missed periods
  • Eating disorders
  • Reduced bone density


Some women stop menstruating when they do not have enough body fat. This is because fat plays an important role in estrogen production.

Social and Psychological Effects

Selective-abstractionSelective abstraction is when a compulsive exerciser associates exercise with long-term happiness. “If I exercise enough, I will never feel bad” is a selective abstraction.

Exercise addiction affects relationships because excessive workouts take up a lot of time. This causes family and friends to feel left out or upset that the compulsive exerciser no longer interacts with them. Even when friends and family members have the best intentions, approaching someone about compulsive exercise can also create relationship conflict. Exercise addiction treatment centers offer individual therapy and group sessions to help mend these relationships. If you need more information about the rehabilitation process, call our free helpline at 1-888-287-0471 to speak to a treatment support specialist today.

People with exercise addiction also use cognitive distortion to justify their workout habits. Some of the cognitive distortions used include black and white thinking, selective abstraction, over generalization, superstitious thinking, magnification, arbitrary inference, personalization, and discounting. Black and white thinking is when someone with exercise addiction fails to see the many shades of gray related to exercise. A compulsive exerciser might say that it is not worth it to exercise at all if he cannot exercise for at least an hour. Selective abstraction is when a compulsive exerciser associates exercise with long-term happiness. “If I exercise enough, I will never feel bad” is a selective abstraction.

Over generalization is making sweeping statements related to exercise. Someone with exercise addiction might say that all people who do not exercise are overweight. Superstitious thinking is another sign of compulsive disorders. People with exercise addiction may believe that bad things will happen if they do not run a certain number of miles or do a certain number of reps on a weight machine. Magnification is when someone overestimates the importance of exercise. Someone who feels this way might say something like, “If I can’t keep exercising, my life will be worthless.”

Arbitrary inference is when a compulsive exerciser associates someone else’s success with exercise. Someone with exercise addiction might say that people who exercise have better relationships or better careers. Personalization is a way to turn perceptions about exercise and weight inward. Statements like “everyone looks at me because I weigh too much” and “people like people who exercise” are examples of personalization. Finally, discounting is when a compulsive exerciser comes up with reasons not to listen to medical professionals and concerned family members about their exercise addiction. Someone with exercise addiction may discount the advice of a physician if the physician is overweight or out of shape.

Did You Know?

Exercise addiction treatment centers help compulsive exercisers address these cognitive distortions and replace them with more positive activities.

Exercise addiction can cause emotional distress, especially when accompanied by negative body image or a lack of self-esteem. This emotional distress may cause frequent crying, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. The sleep disturbances may even lead to other psychological problems, as a lack of sleep is associated with inability to concentrate, reduced attention span, forgetfulness, poor decisions, and increased errors. Other emotional effects of exercise addiction include anxiety, loss of motivation, irritability, and symptoms of depression.

Co-occurring Disorders

Exercise addiction sometimes accompanies eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia is an eating disorder involving self-starvation, which leads to excessive weight loss. Even when people with this disorder are dangerously thin, they still believe they need to lose weight. These are just some of the dangers of anorexia:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle wasting
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney stones
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Malnutrition
  • Sleep disturbances

Bulimia is a serious eating disorder that involves a cycle of binging and purging. Binging refers to eating a very large amount of food on a regular basis. People who binge may eat very quickly and continue eating even when they feel sick from eating too much. Bulimia also has several dangers.

  • Erosion of tooth enamel
  • Heart failure
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Tears in the esophagus
  • Loss of muscle mass

Did You Know?

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any disease or disorder, according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

People with exercise addiction may also struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that marijuana, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, and ketamine are just some of the drugs that people abuse. Some people also abuse prescription medications such as opiates and central nervous system depressants. Family members and friends should watch for signs of drug and alcohol addiction.

  • Behavioral changes
  • Excessive spending
  • Neglected appearance
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor academic or work performance
  • Missing work or school excessively

Some exercise addiction treatment centers also have staff members available to provide counseling and treatment to those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Rehabilitation professionals may provide medications to help the person get through the initial period of withdrawal. Individual and group counseling helps drug and alcohol abusers get to the root causes of their addiction. Counseling also helps people develop the personal motivation needed to conquer their problems.


psychotherapyExercise addiction is serious, but the good news is that there are treatment options available. No prescription drugs have been approved to treat this disorder, but scientists are working to discover pharmaceutical treatments that will help people with exercise addiction control their impulses. When exercise addiction occurs along with anorexia or bulimia, psychotherapy may help change beliefs and behaviors. The psychotherapy should address self-esteem issues and distorted body image in addition to the central issue of exercise addiction. Treatment will not immediately resolve compulsive exercise issues, but it will help those with those with this type of addiction start the recovery process. For help finding treatment options, call 1-888-287-0471 or click here to contact us.

Recovery Support

Family members and friends are an important part of the recovery process. Avoid making judgmental statements or criticizing the person recovering from exercise addiction. Jokes about the person’s body shape or body weight are not appropriate, as they are hurtful and may trigger episodes of compulsive exercise. Avoid commenting on your own physical flaws when talking with someone who has an exercise addiction. Parents should reduce the amount of pressure they place on children with this disorder. Getting teens involved in preparing healthy meals and engaging in reasonable amounts of exercise is another way for families to help compulsive exercisers through the recovery process.

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