Getting regular exercise is part of a balanced lifestyle. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Exercise is shown to reduce the risk of disease and improve your overall quality of life. It’s a natural way to relieve stress and anxiety, combat depression, and keep your body active and strong.
Most understand the myriad of benefits of regular exercise. Plenty of people go for a walk or a run throughout the week, have a consistent gym routine, or enjoy some other activity, such as swimming, cycling or dancing.
At the same time, there’s also a line between a healthy exercise regimen and an unhealthy obsession with the practice. Compulsive exercise is a serious problem for some people. Crossing the line from beneficial to obsessive puts people in just as dangerous of a category as not exercising at all. But where does the boundary between healthy and unhealthy lie?
What Is Compulsive Exercise?
Compulsive exercise describes a pattern of behavior where individuals participate in excessive overexercise. It’s not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Compulsive exercise isn’t always connected to an eating disorder but oftentimes it is a common symptom for those with an ED, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
Individuals who struggle with compulsive exercise participate in fitness regimens that significantly interfere with their lives. They work out at inconvenient or inappropriate times, including during bad weather or when they’re injured. Their exercise gets in the way of daily responsibilities, family and friends, important activities, and other aspects of life.
The defining characteristic is their compulsive nature when it comes to exercise. They no longer work out because they enjoy it; they’ve reached a point where they have to work out or they’ll feel anxious, guilty, or shameful if they don’t. They plan their entire lives around their exercise routine and neglect other areas to get their workouts in.
Signs of Compulsive Exercise
Are you wondering whether your exercise has crossed the line from healthy to compulsive exercise? Keep in mind that different people need different amounts of exercise depending on their lifestyles. But there are some clear signs you can look for to determine whether you should reconsider your relationship with working out.
- Overtraining- exercising more than 1 hour per day
- Exercising multiple times per day
- Having an intense, strict, scheduled exercise regimen
- Feeling stress, irritability, anxiety, depression, shame, or guilt if they miss a workout
- Continuing exercising despite discomfort or injury
- Struggling to rest or sit still
- Using exercise to manage emotions
- Using exercise to account for caloric intake (exercising to “burn off” calories)
- Giving yourself “permission” to eat because of your exercise
- Exercising in secret to avoid judgment
- Neglects other responsibilities to exercise
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Basing your self-worth on your athletic performance (not good enough, fast enough, pushing hard enough, etc.)
Dangers of Compulsive Exercise
Regular exercise is a great thing but compulsive exercise puts people at risk of developing serious health complications. Some of the dangers of compulsive exercise include:
- Damaged muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, or cartilage
- Increased chance of injury (overuse, stress fractures, etc.)
- Persistent muscle or joint pain
- Chronic joint or bone pain
- Altered resting heart rate
- Loss of bone density
- Loss of menstrual cycle
- Increased fatigue, sluggishness, or exhaustion
- Increased development of illness or upper respiratory infections
How to Transition From Obsession to Enjoyment
There’s nothing wrong with moving our bodies. It’s good to get your body moving throughout the week. Even strenuous workouts have their benefits. When you can’t separate your self-worth from your exercise, though, and don’t allow for proper recovery time, problems arise. How can you shift from compulsive exercise back to a healthy, positive relationship with working out?
Trying to quit compulsive exercise on your own can be a challenge. When it’s intertwined with an eating disorder the problem becomes even more difficult to overcome. Eating disorders are serious and often progressive conditions that involve far more than the exercise itself. It isn’t easy to change your thinking by yourself.
Seeking treatment for compulsive exercise and any coexisting eating disorder is the best way to shift from obsession to enjoyment. Treatment for compulsive exercise involves a multi-faceted approach that starts with reducing exercise and then recognizing, sitting with, and changing the negative feelings that arise.
Finding Help for Compulsive Exercise and ED
Compulsive exercise related to an eating disorder involves additional work. Specialized eating disorder treatment facilities are equipped to provide you with the best care possible. They’re staffed with therapists, nutritionists, and other clinicians who understand the complexities of overcoming an eating disorder.
Toledo Center is an innovative facility that uses evidence-based eating disorder treatment approaches. We know that you may struggle with asking for help or even acknowledging there could be a problem. Our compassionate treatment team provides an individualized program to each person who comes under our care.
Located on the banks of picturesque 10-Mile Creek, Toledo Center is nestled in a peaceful, private setting. The therapeutic environment allows you to focus entirely on your recovery and regain control of your life, surrounded by caring and understanding. Reach out to our admissions team to learn more about the programs we offer or get connected with treatment today!