Exercise addiction is probably the most contradictory of all the addictions. Not only is exercise a widely promoted health behavior, it is an important part of recovery from another addiction, and an effective part of treatment for depression and other mental health problems. This is because exercise has many psychological benefits, as well as physical benefits. In fact, the positive effects of exercise, and particularly outdoor exercise are on a par with medications as a treatment for depression, which often co-occurs with or underlies addictions.
Yet, like everything else, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. And it is possible to develop an addiction to exercise, in much the same way you can develop other behavioral addictions.
So how do you know whether you are engaged in a healthy lifestyle, or whether you have a problem? Well, the first step is to understand what an addiction is. Think about how you would feel if you were unable to exercise for a day, a week, or indefinitely. Would it bother you? Would it be a nice rest? Most importantly, would you find it hard to cope with life without daily exercise?
If you feel distressed at the thought of not being able to exercise every day, and at a loss for how you would manage your feelings and get through the day and night without exercising at some point, it may be time to seek help. Unfortunately, exercise addiction is not well recognised, so may not be as well-resourced as other addictions, such as alcohol and drugs. However, your family doctor should be able to advise you, and you may be able to access support through an addictions clinic. Psychologists are usually well-trained in helping people manage change in their lives, so finding a psychologist to support you may also be an option.
If you are exercising frequently, but are not really concerned about how it would feel if you couldn't exercise, you are probably not addicted, although it may be worth discussing how much exercise is healthy for you with your family doctor, or someone with expertise in exercise, such as a personal trainer or gym instructor. The amount and type of exercise that is healthy will depend on many factors, including your age, health, sex, and physical condition. If you find it hard to limit your exercise to what they advise, it may be time to seek help.