Exercise Dependence: Could exercise be a problem for you?

Sadly I've heard too many people say "I wish I was addicted to exercise!"  Our culture glorifies and endorses exercise obsession which can make it so hard for people to recognise the problem and then feel justified in seeking help.

Although physical activity is promoted for enhancing mental and physical health, excessive exercise puts you at high risk of health problems.  Exercise dependence is a strong compulsion to do increasing amounts of physical activity, despite negative impacts to health, relationships, or work.  Exercise will dominate a person’s thoughts, schedule, and priorities, and they will experience feelings of withdrawal when unable to participate.

Exercise dependence: signs, risks, causes, what can help


Signs exercise may be problematic for you

  • Exercise has become the most important aspect of your life, and dominates your thinking
  • You give up important events with friends, family and work to exercise instead
  • Friends or family express concern or frustration about the level of exercise you do
  • When you take a day off exercise you feel irritable, moody, anxious, or fatigued
  • You have increased the amount of exercise you do in order to feel the same effects
  • You regularly exercise for longer than you intended
  • You have unsuccessfully tried to reduce the amount of exercise you do
  • You exercise to avoid something (feelings of anxiety, stress, fear of gaining weight)
  • You exercise when unwell or injured


Risks (or why this is a problem)

Exercise dependence can lead to:

  • Muscle & bone injuries
  • Heart problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reproductive problems
  • Cessation of menstruation 
  • Reduced immunity
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Breakdown of relationships
  • Inability to work effectively

Possible causes

If exercise is used as the main strategy to regulate mood or cope with stress, it can give rise  to a perceived need for increasing amounts of exercise.  This can lead to overtraining, feelings of withdrawal, and ultimately dependence.


How counselling can help

The good news is you won’t be forced to quit exercise!  Counselling can help you to return to moderate physical activity that is within your control by helping you to:

  • Find other coping strategies for your worries and stresses
  • Explore and clarify your thinking around exercise
  • Discover new activities you enjoy
  • Improve your body image 
  • Untie your sense of self worth and identity from exercise


Please note

This article is for information purposes only, and is not a diagnosis.  A counsellor or psychologist can assist if anything here has raised concerns for you.  Feel free to get in touch via the button at the top of this website.


by Jodie Arnot

Jodie is a registered counsellor with a Masters in Counselling from Monash University.  She provides counselling via telephone, Skype, and in person, and is passionate about helping women to feel good about themselves so they can live a life they adore.