11 Warning Signs Of Exercise Addiction

You pull on your leggings, tie up your laces, tighten your ponytail, and secure your EarPods. The weather is beautiful, perfect for a run.

You head out down your normal route and run a couple of miles with the music pumping in your ears. With a glistening sheen of sweat, you circle back home and head inside to cool down.

As you wipe your face with a towel and lie under the fan, you feel strong and energized. The endorphins are racing through your body and you feel empowered, ready to take on the world. You’re tired but you feel proud and content.

Maybe you’ve just finished a yoga, barre, or Pilates class. You may have just wrapped up a CrossFit WOD, a weightlifting session, a dance, or a kickboxing class. Maybe you’ve just knocked out a quick HIIT workout or spent 30 minutes on the Stairmaster.

The chosen form of exercise is the method that delivers you directly to that post-workout high exercise fanatics are all too familiar with.

Why do I feel euphoric after exercise? 

That feeling of strength and power that fills you up once you’ve completed a satisfying workout is the courtesy of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, those happy chemicals that are released through your body when it’s exercising.

These chemicals lift our moods and make us feel happier, thanks to a healthy amount of exercise.

After working out, this feeling can stick with us for a few hours, leaving us feeling enthusiastic and euphoric for a short span of time after the exercise is complete.

This is why time and time again research tells us that exercise is recommended for people who suffer from depression. The lift in mood experienced from exercise (along with therapy and medications if you choose to utilize them) can bring the individual out of a slump and put them in better spirits.

However, the feeling of euphoria doesn’t last forever. Eventually the high fades away and we are left to feeling exactly how we felt before. The endorphin and dopamine rush temporarily make us feel indestructible, invincible, strong and empowered, but once the high is gone, we are back in a slump.

On the other hand, we have now learned how to get that feeling back: more exercise.

How is exercise addictive? 

The chemical release that occurs in the body after a workout is similar to the feeling one experiences when taking opioids. Because this rush is so exhilarating, it’s highly sought after once it’s left the system.

You’ve learned from working out that once you’ve completed the session, you’ll feel jubilant and powerful, so you continue chasing this high.

You work out, feel the exercise euphoria, and after a short while it fades away. You begin exercising daily in order to experience this feeling more regularly. Your workouts get longer, and you spend more time in the gym, maybe without consciously noticing you are doing so, in order to elongate the effects of the chemical rush.

The euphoria eventually disappears, and the cycle continues.

Eventually, you are working out for 90 or more minutes a day, almost every day, and your schedule revolves around your exercise.

You don’t have time to hang out with friends because you have to attend your hot yoga class. You can’t grab lunch with a coworker because you spend your lunch break in the gym. You start slacking on schoolwork because you spend all your free time running. Your knee is in pain, but you continue pushing yourself on the Stairmaster. Exercise can be without a doubt addictive.

Here are 11 warning signs of exercise addiction. 

1. You build your schedule around exercise

When you’re not at work, you’re working out. Exercise is your number one priority and takes precedence over all other responsibilities. Maybe you work your own hours and can build your work schedule around your workout schedule. If this is the case, your exercise time takes priority over your job.

You may be late to work often because your gym session ran long, or you may take frequent days off so you can spend more time in the Pilates studio. Your whole day revolves around how and when you will exercise, and you do your best to plan the rest of your day accordingly.

You schedule work time around your time in the gym. You pencil time in with your friends or family around your workout sessions. You try to run all your errands and complete your to-do list, but only once your exercise is done for the day.

You prioritize exercise over everything else; you’re unable to make it to the pharmacy to pick up medication, unable to drive your brother to the airport, unable to make dinner plans with your parents. Missing a workout to do these things is simply not an option. This is a blatant sign of exercise addiction.

2. Your energy is low, and you constantly feel drained

Exercise depletes a lot of your energy. If you’re working an 8-10-hour workday and working out for an hour or two either before or after that time, you will be exhausted.

You start missing events and activities because you simply don’t have the drive or energy to go. You don’t have the extra energy to expend because you use it all to fuel your workouts.

You don’t have the energy to do anything besides exercise, and you save every ounce of energy you have for your workouts. You work, work out, and sleep because you’re too worn out to do anything else.

When you’re running through all your energy stores in the gym, you feel completely drained for the remainder of the day and can’t focus on tasks that require your full attention. Your work becomes less effective, and over time, your workouts become less efficient and impactful because you just don’t have the energy to power through.  

3. You are highly irritable

Irritability goes hand in hand with low energy.

When you’re tired and worn out, you become cranky because your mind and body crave rest.

When you’re over-exercising, you may not be appropriately compensating nutritionally for all the extra calories you’re expelling during your workouts. You may be overexerting yourself without refueling properly which can lead to an energy deficit. This is also a contributing fact to your level of irritability.

Your body is exhausted; through irritability, it’s trying to send you a message. It wants a break, it wants to rest, it wants comparable fuel, it wants to slow down and relax. When you’re addicted to exercise, you’re not affording your body the refueling period it deserves, and this reveals itself through your irritable mood.

4. You work out even when you’re sick or injured

It’s healthy to take a day off from exercise, especially if you’re feeling under the weather. We all need time to rest and re-cooperate, even if we aren’t in pain or feeling sick. However, when we are under the weather, our bodies are telling us to pause and take a beat.  

Powering through a workout session when you’re not feeling well, forcing yourself to go for that run when you have a headache, refusing to take a day off for a cold, or ignoring an injury and continuing to push yourself, are all warning signs of exercise addiction.

Instead of taking the time off your body needs to recharge, you push yourself beyond exhaustion because you are addicted to the chemical rush you get from your workout. The problem is, when you’re too exhausted to even make it through a workout because you’re sick or injured, the chances are low that you’ll even properly receive that hit the brings you your desired exercise high.

5. All you think about is exercise

You’re planning your next workout, you’re dreaming about dumbbells, you’re zoned out because you’re wondering if you’ll be on time for the barre class you’ve signed up for.

Everything that runs through your mind, everything that comes out of your mouth is exercise-related. That’s all you know how to talk about because that’s all you do. All of your free time is spent exercising, and it consumes your thoughts.

Every conversation you have involves exercise. You find a way to work it in, or you only spend time with other gym-goers so that’s your usual topic of conversation.

You don’t have any room in your mind to think about anything else, and it distracts you from thinking about other important things in your life. It prevents you from being fully present in your daily life because your thoughts are always on when and how you’ll get your next workout in.

6. You are hyper-focused on your body

A warning sign of exercise addiction is paying inordinate amounts of time looking at your body, poking and prodding at your body, and criticizing your body.

You are obsessed with body-checking and spend unnecessary time staring at your body in the mirror. You examine and criticize and nitpick and find things wrong with yourself when there is absolutely nothing wrong with your body. However, because you are hyper-focused on it, you find things that you think are wrong and focus your full attention on the areas you deem in need of change.  

When you’re so focused on your body, you’ll never be satisfied with it. Spending so much time working out consequently forces you to pay more attention to what you look like, how your clothes fit, if you have abs or not, or how defined your triceps are.

You zero in on something, like your abs, and are unable to break your focus until you feel they are flat enough, toned enough, tight enough.

7. You slack off on responsibilities in order to exercise

When you over-exercise, you make working out your top priority and other responsibilities fall by the wayside.

You don’t have time to finish your school assignment before the deadline because you’re spending hours running on the treadmill. You don’t make it to a work event because your spin class took precedence. You miss a family get-together because you have to improve your deadlift.

Exercise can be an important part of your life, but you must strike a healthy balance between exercise and the other aspects of your life. If you’re constantly choosing to work out over spending time with friends or family, completing work and school assignments, or making it to appointments and obligations, exercise has taken priority over everything else.

When you allow exercise to consume your whole schedule and let responsibilities go out the window, that is a sure warning sign of exercise addiction.

8. Your relationships decay because of how much time you dedicate to exercise

When you begin to regularly cancel plans with friends and family, they start to take note. Exercise addiction results in canceled plans in order to get another workout in, and that often means skipping leisure time with loved ones.

Eventually, if you cancel often enough, people will stop asking you to do things with them because they know you’ll either say no, or you’ll say yes and end up canceling at the last minute so you can have more time to exercise.

You no longer have close relationships other than with the people you see in the yoga studio or at the gym. Regular gym-goers constitute the majority of your friends, and the only interactions you get are the casual waves across the gym floor or the brief exchanges about your new squat record.

Because so much of your time is spent working out, most of your friends are from the classes you attend, the gym you frequent, or the running path you regularly utilize. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but you also need relationships that are built on things you value other than exercise.

Sometimes it’s nice to talk about something other than rowing, AMRAPs, and the best brand of workout leggings.

9. Every workout is time-consuming

Gone are the days where you can go for a 30-minute run and be back in time to shower and properly get ready for work. You are no longer satisfied with an hour-long Zumba class; you can’t stop lifting weights at the hour mark.

You feel the need to keep going, keep pushing, and keep working.

Instead of calling it quits when the class wraps up, you add another 30 minutes of cardio. Instead of tapping out at the top of the hour, you climb onto the treadmill for a 20-minute jog. You tag more time onto the end of your exercise sessions and eventually, you find yourself unable to leave the gym without having a couple of hours under your belt.

Allowing your workouts to steadily become lengthier is a slippery slope. You add ten minutes one day and that becomes the new norm, the new baseline. Every workout becomes that long because you feel like you can’t allow yourself to (in your mind) slack off with a shorter workout.

There is no longer such thing as a quick workout, and your time dedicated to your exercise continues to expand.

10. You feel like you can’t stop

Exercise addiction is labeled what it is for a reason; it’s an addiction. You are fully entrenched in your obsession and you can’t pull yourself away.

You never take a rest day because you’ve bought into the fitness industry’s mantra of “no days off.” Missing a workout is not an option; the idea alone is preposterous and laughable.

Even if you want to take a break, take a day off to recharge, take the rest your body is craving, you don’t afford yourself the time to relax. You may see this desire for rest as weakness or laziness and you power through the feeling, forcing yourself to attend your spin class anyway.

You just can’t stop. You can’t break the exercise cycle. You can’t allow yourself the necessary rest and relaxation. You can’t let yourself step away and breathe.

11. You’ve tied your self-worth to exercise

Exercise is no longer something you do; it’s become who you are.

You define yourself through your exercise. How long you can go, how much weight you can lift, how fast you can run, and how precisely you can move are all factors that play into how you value yourself.

Your self-worth has become action-based. The workouts you do, how high you can crank up your heart rate, how much sweat you can expend all add up to how “good” or “bad” you think you are.

In your eyes, you’ve become a reflection of your exercise. This is similar to people who build their self-worth on their work performance, how good of a mother they are, or how often they volunteer.

Instead of seeing your value as inherent because you are a human being worthy of being valued, you stack your level of worth against how many hours you spent in the gym this week.  

Exercise addiction is a real thing, and many people are completely unaware they struggle with it. Often, we think highly of people who dedicate hours to building and strengthening their bodies, but we don’t think about all the time it takes to do so.

Yes, your abs are tight, your arms are lean, and your legs are toned, but you skipped having lunch with your boyfriend or girlfriend in order to make it to barre. You canceled plans to see a movie with some friends to make more time for your run. You missed a doctor’s appointment in order to have an extra hour at the gym.

All of these things are signs of possible exercise addiction and should be taken into care and consideration.

woman doing a shoulder press
Photo by John Arano on Unsplash
Eden is a 26-year-old Aries who loves learning and exploring mental health, self-love, self-care, and eating disorder recovery.

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.