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Is exercise addiction real? Is it something to worry about?

In general, the opposite is the problem here in America. Seventy-seven percent of Americans fail to reach the minimum recommended physical activity guidelines, while only about 0.5% of people can be classified as what we might call exercise addicts.

However, the numbers change when you look at certain demographics. For example, when you look at “fitness people” specifically, exercise addiction is much more common according to a number of studies.

So what is exercise addiction? Could you be addicted to exercise or maybe on the path to becoming addicted? What are the signs of exercise addictions? How do you know if you’re exercising too much?

I answer all that and more in this podcast, so press play and dive in!


0:00 – My fat-burners Phoenix and Forge are 25% off this week only! Go to and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% on any non-sale items or get double reward points!

3:55 – What is exercise addiction?

5:25 – What classifies you an addict?

7:16 – Why do you become addicted to exercise? 

11:00 – What are the signs of exercise addiction?   

13:04 – Do I have an exercise addiction? 

Mentioned on the Show:

My fat-burners Phoenix and Forge are 25% off this week only! Go to and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% on any non-sale items or get double reward points!

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Hello, hello and welcome to Muscle for Life. Thanks for joining me today. I am your host, Mike Matthews, and we’re gonna be talking about exercise addiction. Is that really a thing? Is it a thing to be worried about that makes as much sense to some people as agonizing over saving too much money or being too productive?

Because here in America we have the opposite problem. Sloth. We have a lot of that. 77% of Americans currently fail to meet the recommended minimum physical activity guidelines, whereas it’s estimated that only 0.5%. Of the population suffers from what might be called exercise addiction. That said, the math changes when you look at different demographics.

Most people, they don’t need to worry about exercise addiction. Yes, that’s true, but it’s much more common among some people, among fitness people in particular. And it could be more common than you might. Realize. For example, a study conducted by scientists at the University of Southern Denmark found evidence of exercise addiction in 4% of school athletes, 9% of the general fitness crowd, and 21% of people with eating disorders.

In another study conducted by the same university, they found that the prevalence of exercise addiction was between three and 42% with the higher numbers likely taken from samples of athletes rather than the general population. So what is exercise addiction? Is it something that you should even think about?

Might you be addicted to exercise? Might you not be addicted to exercise, but on the way to exercise addiction, what are the signs? How do you know if you are exercising too much or too little? Well, that’s what we’re gonna be talking about in today’s episode. Before we wade into it, if you want to speed up your metabolism, lose fat faster, reduce hunger and cravings, and save quite a bit of money, then you want to check out my Natural Fat Burners Phoenix and Forge.

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All right, so let’s start with the obvious question. What is exercise addiction? Well, it’s usually defined as a compulsive craving for physical activity that results in harmful consequences, such as overuse injuries, impaired relationships, social isolation, extreme weight loss, and. So on, and it’s worth noting the exercise addiction is not recognized as an official mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

So there isn’t a science-based framework for diagnosing it. There’s also no evidence that people develop the same level of chemical dependency on exercise that they do to say nicotine or heroin or other drugs. That said, there are enough behavioral parallels that many medical professionals, coaches and scientists use the term exercise addiction.

It is appropriate and it’s also sometimes referred to as exercise bulimia, and that’s similar, but. In that case, the driving motivation to exercise is connected with some sort of distorted body image, some sort of body dysmorphia, as well as an irrational desire to lose weight and to keep losing weight.

Whereas with exercise addiction, maybe it’s just blowing off steam or maybe it’s avoiding life issues. Just going into the gym and zoning out, and in the case of the latter couple of examples, exercise addiction. Is uh, a better term than exercise bulimia. Now, you may also hear some people claim that anyone who exercises more than a certain amount is addicted or is possibly addicted to exercise, but that’s hogwash because many competitive endurance athletes train 10 to 20 or even 30 hours a week and are also able to function.

They can maintain. Family life. They can do well in their jobs. They can stay healthy. They probably don’t have many or any other hobbies, but they are not disordered because of their high volume of training. So when we are looking to understand exercise addiction, it’s more productive to look at the results of.

Exercise as opposed to how much exercise they’re doing. If someone insists on continuing to do a lot of exercise despite not recovering from their workouts, and if they experience anxiety when they can’t exercise as much as they want, if they are suffering problems in their personal and professional lives because of how much exercise they’re doing, then.

We could be looking at exercise addiction, but in the case of somebody else doing the same amount of training or maybe even more training, you could have a healthy, mostly balanced. We all are a little imbalanced, but mostly balanced person. Who’s just ambitious, who has big athletic goals, big body composition goals, and you’d find that they are recovering from their training and they are dealing with their other responsibilities well, and they are dealing with the inevitable disruptions that get in the way.

Well, and so in that case, it wouldn’t be accurate to describe that type of person as an exercise. Addict. Now, why do some people become addicted to exercise? Well, this is going to depend on the individual, but some common causes are the desire to lose weight, uh, self-esteem issues, or replacing our compounding other addictions with.

Exercise and the first cause is pretty straightforward. To lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you expend. And of course, exercise is a great way to expend calories. Some people though, overreach and they take this to extremes and they try to burn evermore calories or they try to achieve an unsustainable high.

Level of daily energy expenditure, and oftentimes after they have lost weight, they are very afraid to put weight back on. And so they’re afraid to exercise less than they were to lose the weight in the first place. A rather extreme example of this is the wrapper m and m. Marshall Mathers, who claims that after his weight climbed to 230 pounds, he began running 17 miles a day.

He said he would get up in the morning and before he went to the studio, he would run eight and a half miles in about an hour. Then he would come home and he would run another eight and a half miles. And he said he started to get pretty O C D about his calories, and he wanted to make sure that he burned at least 2000 calories every day.

And in the end, he got down to 149 pounds. Yes, that can work, but it’s rather extreme. And so it’s not surprising then that some research shows that one out of five people with an eating disorder also exhibit signs of exercise addiction. And for what it’s worth, the instances I’ve seen firsthand have always included.

A diet and an exercise component. There was a bit of an eating disorder as well as an exercise disorder, and while eating disorders and exercise disorders certainly can cause rapid weight loss, it is one of the worst. Ways to lose weight because it comes at the cost of large amounts of muscle as well as your wellbeing, and it usually results in injuries.

So instead, it’s much better to spend a few hours per week doing strength training. Maybe an hour or two of moderate intensity cardio per week. If you really wanna do some high intensity stuff, limit it to about an hour per week and calibrate your diet so you can lose one to two pounds per week. Now, I mentioned two other common causes of exercise addiction.

One was self-esteem issues, and another was replacing or compounding some other addiction with. Exercise and those are pretty self-explanatory. One interesting note is research shows that some people who struggle with self-esteem issues, they use obsessive exercise as a form of punishment, as a form of self-flagellation, not as a form of celebration.

And one other circumstance worth mentioning, something that I’ve seen in people as well, is that when. They feel like, or when their lives are kind of spinning out of control or when some sort of catastrophe has struck, then they’ll find that exercise is just a simple activity that they feel they can control and they can measure and they can master.

And so they just put more and more time into exercise and try to deal less and less with the. Chaos that they are surrounded by now. How can you know if you or somebody you care about, somebody close to you is addicted to exercise or is starting to develop an exercise addiction? What are the signs? Well, while there are many individual circumstances that can lead to.

Exercise addiction. I gave you a few broad reasons, but there are many ways those things can manifest. However, there is one manifestation that tends to hold true for everyone, and that is a gripping mania. To exercise despite severe negative consequences, then great deep distress when they can’t. And so in cases of exercise addiction, we see things like exercising despite illness, injury or pain, severe anxiety or anger, when not able to exercise a focus on burning a certain number of calories every day, and it’s usually a very high and unsustainable, high number of calories.

Focus on continually exercising more, always trying to do more, and always trying to burn more calories. Following an extremely monotonous training program. You know, going out and running two hours every day with no variation, no progression. Just pounding the pavement. There’s also using exercise to punish themselves for dietary indiscretions.

So if somebody overeats, which maybe is just in their mind, they just feel like they overate, and then they plan on doing an extra hour or two of exercise the following day, refusal to modify your exercise plan to accommodate schedule changes, that’s another sign, another red flag, particularly with travel.

And insisting on sticking to the exact routine, insisting on eating the exact foods. And another common symptom is continuing to exercise despite hating the workouts. Just having to keep. Doing it now, you might be thinking that you exhibit maybe at least a couple of those traits, and if you do a, an internet search for exercise addiction symptoms, you’ll probably find some others that would apply to you.

For example, here are a few that pop up online feeling buzzed after exercising. Reducing activities in other areas of life to make time for exercise. Changing plans to accommodate your workout schedule a negative body image. Uh, okay. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves. We’ve probably all felt or acted on impulses like those before and some of them are even positive.

Isn’t exercise supposed to improve our mood? Isn’t making time for exercise a good thing? Isn’t it a necessary thing? We all have way too little time for all of the things that we want to do. It’s just a matter of prioritization. We are all gonna die with a long to-do list, and let’s make sure that start training is not on that list.

And who among us, no matter how fit they are, hasn’t felt at least a little bit down about their appearance before. And what if that dip. Encouraged us to eat and exercise better going forward. Hmm. That’s probably happened too. Right? And therein lies the rub with psychiatric disorders as a whole. In most cases, the symptoms of these disorders are amplified versions of otherwise healthy and productive.

Behaviors. So while it’s important to be vigilant against self-destructive actions in the kitchen, in the gym elsewhere, we also don’t want to be overly sensitive and overly trigger happy with labels like. Exercise addiction. If you are unsure whether your exercise routine is destructive or constructive, then just look at its return on investment.

Is it making you healthier or not? Is it making you happier or not? Is it making you more engaged, more productive, more resilient in your personal and professional lives, or, Not, or less. So are you progressing toward your fitness goals or are you moving backward? And if you find it difficult to answer these questions honestly, then ask a trusted friend, somebody who you know has your best interests at heart, and who will give you honest but not brutal objective.

Feedback and the bottom line is that exercise should act as a sale. It should pull you along toward your goals, toward all of your goals, because fitness is not everything, but everything is harder when you’re not fit right? Your fitness should not be an anchor. Your exercise should not fix you in place.

And if you feel that your current lifestyle is more the anchor than the sale, then maybe it’s time to make a change. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.

And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for, muscle f o r and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.

I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.

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