Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Can you be addicted to exercise?

Exercise is an important part of health and wellness for both the body and mind.1 For years, it’s been considered a core component of a “healthy lifestyle,” and indeed, some daily bodily movement can do wonders for our physical selves and our emotional and mental states.

But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
March 14, 2023
Can you be addicted to exercise?
In this article

What is exercise addiction?

Experts recognize exercise addiction as a dangerous form of obsessive or excessive behavior, and the condition is also increasingly being found to co-occur with eating disorders.3

But, in a world seemingly fixated on fitness, it can be difficult to tell when the line has been crossed from well-meaning workouts to unhealthy trips to the gym.

Excessive exercise may be referred to as secondary exercise addiction when it relates to an eating disorder.

Clarifying exercise addiction vs. compulsive exercise

Exercise addiction (also called exercise dependence) and compulsive exercise are slightly different. Exercise addiction relates to the need to exercise for physical fitness, while compulsive exercisers work out to avoid or mask negative feelings.4

Can you be addicted to exercise? 

Yes, you can be addicted to exercise. It may not yet be part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but mental health experts have been studying and citing the phenomena of exercise addiction for years.2

Through this observation, a rough list of traits has been designated as markers to help understand the difference between a fitness enthusiast and someone struggling with exercise addiction. 

Here are six signs that you may be addicted to exercise:2,3

Lack of control
Intention effects
Reduction in other activities

One of the challenging parts about exercise addiction is that even if people are aware that their behaviors negatively impact their physical and mental health, the causes behind these actions are often beyond their control.

Causes of exercise addiction

So, what causes exercise addiction? How does it change from a healthy behavior that assists physical and mental well-being to an addiction connected to eating disorders? 

The cause of exercise addiction varies among each person, but there are some trends.

Chasing the high

While many cases of exercise addiction may start with good intentions to get in better shape, the addiction takes hold once the body’s reaction to the exercise overrides the brain’s logic around the behavior.

Exercise releases endorphins and the chemical dopamine that makes the individual feel good.1 Exercise can therefore become a catalyst for achieving this feeling and chasing the high that comes from the cascade of feel-good chemicals. Depending on exercise to make you “feel good” can also create a cycle of negative reinforcement, maintained by the desire to reduce anxiety, anger, depression, or boredom.2

Almost 50% of exercise addiction cases co-occur with eating disorders.

Co-occurring eating disorder

In addition, many cases of exercise addiction co-occur with eating disorders, with the overlap rate estimated to be anywhere from 39-48%.2 This means people who have exercise addiction may also be dealing with things like body dysmorphia, orthorexia, and any number of other eating disorders. This co-occurrence with disordered eating may make the decision to reduce or stop exercising quite difficult without professional help. 

Addicted to exercise

Exercise addiction vs. exercise enthusiasm

It’s important to note that “healthy exercise” looks different for everyone.

Someone recovering from an eating disorder may practice “mindful movement,” whereas someone in training for a marathon or athletic competition may work out multiple times per day. Like with eating, every body has its own exercise needs and requirements to maintain health. Therefore, there is no universal metric by which to judge another person on their exercise efforts. 

When looking at exercise enthusiasts from the outside, it might be hard to differentiate between someone working out within their own healthy limits and someone exhibiting the signs of exercise addiction. To help clarify the difference, many experts utilize Freimuth’s clinical heuristic for distinguishing phases of addiction.2

This method views exercise addiction and enthusiasm through the lens of three primary considerations:
  • Motivation
  • Consequences
  • Control

If someone is motivated by the desire to get in shape and enjoys working out regularly but is willing and able to stop in the face of negative consequences, such as suffering a twisted ankle or getting a concussion, they likely aren’t addicted to exercise. 

On the other hand, someone addicted to exercise would likely have trouble staying away from their routine, even after sustaining an injury, and be unable to stop themselves, despite the risk they would be running by working out while hurt.2

How to treat exercise addiction

If exercise addiction is identified, it can be equally tricky to treat, as it’s not an official DSM diagnosis. Often, patients may have to step down their gym time, alter their workout routines, or refrain from time exercising altogether until they’re more in control of their actions.

Therapists might have a patient keep a journal of their workout routines and social engagements to help determine whether that person is struggling with the condition. If the condition is co-occurring alongside an eating disorder, treatment might be advised for both conditions simultaneously. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have been successful in helping treat these co-occurring conditions. 

Help is always available

If you or someone you know is struggling with exercise addiction, you should seek help as soon as possible.

Learn about virtual treatment

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Matta Mello Portugal, E., Cevada, T., Sobral Monteiro-Junior, R., Teixeira Guimarães, T., da Cruz Rubini, E., Lattari, E., Blois, C., & Camaz Deslandes, A. (2013). Neuroscience of exercise: From neurobiology mechanisms to mental health. Neuropsychobiology, 68(1), 1–14.
  2. Clarifying Exercise Addiction: Differential Diagnosis, Co-occurring Disorders, and Phases of Addiction. (2011). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8(10), 4069–4081.
  3. Hausenblas, H. A., Schreiber, K., & Smoliga, J. M. (2017). Addiction to exercise. BMJ, 317.
  4. Scharmer, C., Gorrell, S., Schaumberg, K., Anderson, D. (2020). Compulsive exercise or exercise dependence? Clarifying conceptualizations of exercise in the context of eating disorder pathology. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 46(101586).
  5. Aidman, E. V., Woollard, S. (2003). The influence of self-reported exercise addiction on acute emotional and physiological responses to brief exercise deprivation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 4(3), 225-236.
  6. Are you getting too much exercise? (n.d.). MedlinePlus. Retrieved March 8, 2023.


Will I have withdrawal symptoms if I stop working out?

After discontinuing workouts, those addicted to exercise may experience withdrawal-like symptoms, including:5

  • Anger
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood
  • Confusion
  • Increased tension

What are the negative consequences of over-exercising?

Too much exercise (i.e., problematic exercise) can negatively affect your physical and mental health. Negative consequences to your physical health include:6

  • Needing more extended periods of rest
  • Sore muscles
  • Overuse injuries
  • Being unable to perform at the same level

Effects on your mental health include:6

  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping

Further reading

Exercise bulimia vs. anorexia athletica

Many people know at least a little bit about eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia...

Can you be addicted to exercise?

Exercise is an important part of health and wellness for both the body and mind. For years, it’s been...

Compulsion and eating disorders

Do you sometimes feel the urge to eat large quantities of food or exercise excessively, to cope with...

What is anorexia athletica?

Many people have heard of eating disorders like bulimia nervosa (BN) or anorexia nervosa (AN), but these...

What causes exercise addiction?

Exercise in moderation can be a key component in maintaining mental and physical well...

Exercising too much: signs and symptoms of overexercise

Over-exercising symptoms can occur when you’re exercising too much and/or not giving...

Exercise addiction treatment & recovery

Exercise addiction is an eating disorder that can do serious damage to the body, with up...

What are the symptoms of exercise addiction?

Exercise addiction hasn’t yet been formally entered into the Diagnostic and...

The essentials of exercise bulimia recovery

Exercise bulimia is not as frequently talked about or as well understood as other eating disorders. But...

What is exercise addiction?

There’s no doubt that our bodies require regular movement to function at their healthiest level. But it is...

What is exercise bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder that affects about three percent of women...

Recognize exercise bulimia signs and symptoms

Exercise bulimia is perhaps a lesser-known eating disorder than anorexia...

Further reading

No items found.