Hobby vs. Habit: When Exercise turns into an Addiction

Hobby vs. Habit: When Exercise turns into an Addiction

The gym- it’s become a common part of American culture. While Americans are often stigmatized as being lazy and overweight by other countries, a new trend of fully embracing a fit lifestyle has caught on, especially among younger generations. The fitness crave and the growing obsession on looking a certain way is especially evident on social media, including accounts aimed to provide inspiration to those trying to get in shape. It’s good that society is becoming better educated about health, fitness, and nutrition but it’s possible that some people take these healthy habits too far- pushing their bodies to unhealthy limits, both physically and mentally.  The term “Exercise Addiction” has recently been used to describe these obsessive behaviors.

Even though gambling is currently the only behavioral addiction recognized in the DSM-5, research has increased regarding exercise and addictive health behaviors.  Exercise addiction has been defined by modifying the criteria for substance dependence. Major factors that separate exercise enthusiasts from exercise addicts include: tolerance, withdrawal, lack of control, reduction of other activities and continuation despite being aware of the damaging physical, social, and psychological effects. For example, if someone needs to constantly increase their exercise routine to feel a sense of accomplishment and he or she feels guilty or anxious when missing a workout, they may be susceptible to exercise addiction. Over-exercising is also common among people with eating disorders which causes people to severely restrict or alter their caloric intake.

It’s easy to see the damaging effects of a drug or alcohol addiction, but it’s difficult to understand the detrimental effects of too much exercise. One story that represents the difficult complications of this issue is that of a girl named Lisa, who was a student at Bridgewater State University. She feared gaining the freshman 15, or the extra weight people often gain when going off to college. To try to ease this fear she decided to dedicate a major amount of the time at the gym.  Lisa rarely missed a workout and if she did, she would be overcome with guilt. She explains “Every aspect of my life was dictated by exercise and food and the need to control it all.” As a result of extreme exercising she stopped menstruating for six years, and suffers from osteoporosis in her hips and back. Along with health issues, people often suffer socially; spending all their time in the gym can impact relationships with friends and family.

Although the effects of this addictive behavior can leave long-term damaging effects, there are ways that this habit can be better controlled. Kindal Boyle, a blogger and lover of fitness, wrote describes how her obsession over fitness and health consumed her. She states, “It sounds silly… there are people fighting for their lives due to drug and alcohol addictions and here I am trying to run three more miles or 100 more push-ups.” To try to control this problem she puts rules in place to help her overcome her exercise addiction. Although it is difficult for her, Kindal allows herself to take a full week off from working out and sets non-negotiable rest days. She also doesn’t use food as a reward or punishment based on her workouts in an attempt to change from her old mindset where the amount of calories burned determined how many calories she could consume.

While society’s growing interest in fitness is good to encourage people to become more active, it’s possible that society also influences people to push too far. Excessive exercise can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health, especially when the motivation behind the workouts aren’t strictly to be healthier. Exercise should be seen as a celebration of what your body can do rather than a punishment for what you ate.


Boyle, K. (n.d.). 6 rules that helped me recover from exercise addiction [Blog post]. Retrieved from Lifting Revolution website: http://www.liftingrevolution.com/6-rules-that-helped-me-recover-from-exercise-addiction/

Freimuth, M., Moniz, S., & Kim, S. R. (n.d.). Clarifying exercise addiction: Differential diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, and phases of addiction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210598/

Zimmerman, R. (n.d.). Exercise addiction: How to know if you’ve crossed the line between health and obsession. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from http://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2016/05/20/exercise-addiction-health-obsession

Audrey Sloma

As a psychology and sociology major, a big focus of my studies has been on mental wellbeing. However, I found that outside of the major, mental health tends to be a forgotten and suppressed topic. Through The Humanology Project, my hope is to help make the topic of mental health as open as the subject of physical health. Growing up, I watched a close relative struggle with addiction, which put a big strain on my family, and along with it, a sense of shame. Watching the stigma of mental illness continue through high school and into college with students struggling from conditions like depression has made me passionate about working with mental health. I tend to be happiest while listening to music, being active outdoors, and playing with my golden retriever puppy.

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