The benefits of regular exercise are well known – decreased risk of disease, cancers, mental disorders and increased physical, mental and social wellbeing. But can you exercise too much?

Regular physical activity is undoubtably good for us, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing! There is a point at which exercise becomes excessive and we risk injury and negative psychological symptoms (such as being irritable if we miss an exercise session). Exercise even has the potential to become an addiction, and just like any other addiction it can lead to a lot of associated suffering. Although rare, extreme cases can ruin people’s lives by splitting up relationships, getting into exercise-related financial debt, and even losing employment.

What does an addiction look like?

There are seven general symptoms that practitioners look for when diagnosing exercise addiction:

• The need to exercise more and more frequently to get the desired physical or mental result
• The presence of physical or mental withdrawal symptoms if an exercise session is missed
• Wanting to cut down but not being able to
• Inability to not go to the gym or take rest days
• A marked reduction in other activities because we’re exercising instead
• Continuing to exercise despite injury/not wanting to

This sounds like me. Am I addicted?

Probably not. There is a big distinction between a healthy exercise habit (even an excessive one) and a clinically relevant addiction. Several people exhibit one or more of these symptoms without exercise being a real problem. If you are worried, the best first option would be to see your GP.

How much research has been done in this area?

In a nutshell, not much. But I am currently leading the world’s largest ever study into exercise addiction as part of my PhD and would love for you to help!

If you can spare 10 minutes, please fill out this anonymous survey exploring exercise addiction. All you need to be is a member of a health club to be eligible.

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Mike Trott is a UK-based fitness professional who specializes in sports personality psychology and sports exercise physiology. He has conducted academic research into group exercise interventions and personality, exercise addiction, and foam rolling physiology, and is also a multi-award-winning Les Mills instructor, trainer and presenter.

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