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Exercise Addiction

Exercise provides so many benefits for the people who engage in it. Not only can it boost metabolism and help maintain an ideal weight, exercise can also improve the strength of muscles and bones to form a stronger core. Exercise also offers many health benefits to internal organs as well and can be a powerful mental health booster. Given all the media attention to the necessity of exercise, it can be hard to believe that there are any downsides to it — as long as a particular exercise is performed correctly.

What Is Exercise Addiction?

For about three percent of the population, though, exercise becomes more than simply a way to stay fit or to stave off depression. This legitimate condition has been found to be most common among runners, triathletes and people who have eating disorders. Individuals with fitness addiction feel compelled to pursue physical activity in spite of the consequences they face. These could include those that are social, physical, emotional — or even more than one.

Like an addiction to any other activity or substance, symptoms of an addiction to exercise include an increased tolerance of the effects of the activity so that more is needed for the individual to feel a boost in self-esteem, a reduction of negative thoughts, an increase in exercise highs or other benefits. On those days when work or other responsibilities make it impossible to exercise, a person who is addicted might experience withdrawal symptoms including fatigue, anxiety, irritability and other unpleasant side effects. Making bargains with oneself to stop the workout at a certain point only to add more time as the benchmark nears is also a sign that a person’s behavior regarding their exercise routine could be addictive.

Addiction to anything, including exercise, is often marked by a loss of control. The individual feels powerless to keep the activity at a manageable level. She or he might find that exercise is taking up time that would have previously been devoted to social, work or family pursuits. One might also find oneself devoting more time to exercising that is recommended by their health professional and that a sizable portion of their days are spent devoted to physical activity. Even in the face of injury, negative psychological effects, illness or medical advice, an individual who has exercise addiction finds it impossible to stop for any length of time.

Compulsive Exercise and Co-Dependent Conditions

Like many other addictions, exercise obsession is often seen with co-dependent conditions. Some scientists, as noted by a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, estimated that the incidence of co-occurrence could be as high as 20 percent, though the research into the correlation has been minimal so far. For example, an addiction to buying or sex has been found to be common among those who are also addicted to exercise. A recent analysis of Shorter Promis Questionnaire (SPQ) data revealed that work addiction is another common co-occurring condition.

However, eating disorders are the most common type to occur at the same time as an exercise addiction. It’s estimated that between 39 and 48 percent of those who have an eating disorders also have exercise addiction. Exercise bulimia and anorexia athletica — also sometimes referred to as sports anorexia or hypergymnasia — are used by a person to exert control over their body. Exercise bulimia is often used as an outlet for purging oneself of the excessive calories they’ve ingested.

Treatment of Exercise Addiction and Related Conditions

When treating exercise addiction, it’s vital that any related conditions are addressed as well. Exercise addiction can be classified as either primary or secondary. If it is primary, then the addiction to exercise doesn’t occur with another addiction. Excessive exercise that is combined with behaviors such as laxative use, vomiting and other methods of expelling calories is considered to be a secondary condition. At Clementine, they understand the challenges that adolescents face every day and create a recovery plan built on empathy, support and education.

Treatment that emulates a home-like setting found at Clementine includes also includes the highest level of medical and psychiatric care outside of a hospital. This supportive combination provides an excellent environment that inspires an acceptance of self and healthy reflection in adolescents. Comprehensive family and academic support is designed to supply the adolescent with the necessary components of treatment as well as a seamless integration back into society. The key is a focus on the recovery of the adolescent in a holistic manner that supports her or his goals of fitness, health and happiness in an environment of supportive and empathetic acceptance.