Many people don’t understand how exercising turns from a healthy habit to a potentially harmful addiction. Losing weight is the reason many people start an exercise programme and is an important goal if you are overweight, but fixating only on the number on the scales can sometimes demotivate people if they have slow weight loss.
Exercise can have a positive impact on both mental and physical health for many other patients. A regular exercise routine can even be incorporated into ongoing treatment for certain mental health conditions.
Although men and women are equally at risk for exercise addiction, it more often appears as a primary addiction in men and a secondary addiction in women. The signs and symptoms of exercise addiction include exercising despite illness or injury and having withdrawal symptoms when you can’t exercise, such as anxiety.
When exercise shifts from a seemingly healthy habit to an addiction, the signs and symptoms are often overlooked and the shift happens slowly. Exercise-related activities took on average one and a half times longer to become automatic than eating an apple or drinking more water.
The average time to reach the maximum level of addiction is 66 days. Symptoms of exercise addiction appear in about 0.3% to 0.5% of the general population worldwide. However, there was a wide variation between individuals and different types of behavior from 18 days to a predicted 254 days. But even after 84 days, half the participants had not reached a high enough automaticity score for their new behaviour to be considered a habit.
Treatment for addiction: The research explains on the treatment of exercise addiction that cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended as with other behavioral addictions. When exercise is taken to an extreme it can manifest as a secondary addiction, in which it’s secondary to an eating disorder and an individual is exercising only to control or maintain their weight. Or exercise addiction may be observable as a primary addiction in which there is no underlying pathology.
But for those with exercise addiction, the goal of therapy is to help patients recognize their addictive behavior and reduce extreme exercise routines.