Are You a Fitness Fanatic or Exercise Addict?

| Well Being

Because you clicked on this, it means you're either teetering the line between the two or you know someone who is. It's funny at first, but any type of addiction can deal some serious consequences. Take a look at the bigger picture so you can compare the two very different identities. Let's dive right into it.

hard running

Pretend like you're referring to your neighbor. From an outsider's perspective, you see this person get up early and walk to their car with their gym bag. Maybe they hop on a bike or go for a run; regardless, they are working out. This person is probably routine, squeezing exercise into the morning rush before work. One day, it snows like crazy. This snow is apocalyptic with a current level II warning. Yet, your neighbor still steps outside and begins shoveling the driveway to get the car out for the trip to the gym. Red flag.

The Exercise Addict

It doesn't happen overnight. It begins like any other addiction: the introduction, the initial high, habitual development, the investments of time and money and beyond. In 2014, there was research completed on the bio-mechanisms of exercise addiction. The findings state "reward, habituation, social support, stress-relief, avoidance of withdrawal and reduction of anxiety" contribute to the addiction. "It has been suggested that exercise addiction is a part of a continuum of sportive activity that develops in stages from the recreational exercise to at-risk exercise, problematic exercise and finally into exercise addiction." Somewhere along the line, there's a slight fork in the road that sucks people in — the route to addiction. (via NCBI)

Like gambling and sex addiction, exercise addiction is classified as a "process" addiction. Although exercise addiction is not medically recognized at this point, an intensive study published in 2010 reported 3 to 5 percent of adults in the United States suffer from it (see how they figured it out here). In addition, approximately 12 percent of people who have been identified with another type of addiction admit to being addicted to exercise as well. Obviously, this number is difficult to gauge with no true parameters; however, there is a list of red flags to consider.

>> Read more: Stress Addiction

brooke fitness

Red Flags

  • Working out with an injury or avoiding time off due to an injury
  • Being late to work so you can finish your workout
  • Spending more and more time in the gym to find the "high" or satisfaction (Exercise releases "happy" endorphins that boost your mood and body's functions)
  • Exhibiting lack of control when it comes to intensity; not being able to dial back
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms of fatigue, tension, agitation when you miss a gym visit
  • Hitting the gym more than once a day
  • Training like a pro when you're not a pro
  • Belonging to more than one gym

Health Issues

Psychiatrist Alayna Yates, MD, a professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, told WebMD what an exercise addict looks like: "They’re overly focused and overly serious about sport and it messes up the rest of their lives. There isn’t time or room for relationships. They stop going to parties. They go to bed at eight so they can get up at four and run. There are divorces.” (via WebMD)

The main idea that separates an addict from a fanatic is working out without a plan, without a limit and without caution. Click here to read more on the science behind forming (and kicking) a habit.

The Fitness Fanatic

This label is pretty complimentary, implying you're healthy and fit and have more knowledge than most about how to use and strengthen your body for the better. The fanatic is someone who is passionate about fitness and does it for the pure joy of it. This person will happily skip a workout to attend a family member's birthday party or get to work early for a big meeting.


Habits of a Fanatic

  • Able to reach the "high" or be satisfied with a workout in 30 minutes or less
  • Has an exercise plan with clear boundaries, for example, no more than four workouts a week, including one HIIT class
  • Is equally or more fascinated by exercise gear than exercise itself
  • Takes rest days seriously and isn't hesitant to dip into some ice cream now and then
  • Tries a variety of workout programs from running to lifting weights, dancing in Zumba, getting flexy with yoga, trying recreational swimming and so on (click here for the recommended classes of 2015)
  • Shares it with others: group fitness class participants, friends, kids, the dog
  • Is able to carry a conversation about anything but fitness

The fanatic might seem like she's all over the place with her workouts, trying to new classes and going to an evening slot rather than her regular morning time. She strategically works out to hit strength training, cardio, mobility and recovery without overdoing it. This person probably knows more about how to do certain exercises and how to use equipment (get the know-how here) than the average Joe simply because of her experience. She may develop her passion into a career or professional status by earning certifications. This is your fitness fanatic.

Which one are you?