University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Dan Fick, MD
Associate Professor of Family Medicine
First Published: November 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Kathy wakes up three mornings each week at 5:00 to run five miles
before work. In the evenings, she goes to her health club for
aerobics and weight work. She schedules all her other activities
around her exercise schedule. Kathy spends little time at home with
her family. She has a stress fracture, yet she continues to run.
Kathy's situation is exaggerated, but it shows the steps people
may take when they become addicted to exercise. Exercise addicts are
just like any other kind of addict, says Dr. Daniel Fick, associate
clinical professor of family practice at the
University of Iowa College of Medicine.
In general, an addiction is something that interferes with your
life, job, and relationships. "The addiction becomes the main focus
at the expense of other important things in life, whatever those
things may be," Fick says.
Just as people dependent on alcohol or drugs require more of the
substance to satisfy their needs, people addicted to exercise require
increasing levels of exercise, Fick says. Most people addicted to
exercise participate in only one type of activity. "They usually run
or jog, because it is more difficult to be addicted to other sports.
Participating in aerobics classes usually costs money. To swim, you
need a pool, and you need weights to lift for weight training."
Fick stresses that only a small percentage of people who exercise
become addicted to it. Most people know when to slow down and when to
vary their activity.
If you feel you may be addicted to exercise, Fick suggests using
the same questions asked of people who have other types of
addictions: Are you trying to escape from a problem? Why do you
exercise? What are the benefits? Does exercise interfere with your
life, work, and relationships?
The media's role in idealizing models and athletes affects the way
people see themselves, he adds. "Some people addicted to exercise
have unrealistic images of their bodies--when they look in the
mirror, all they see is fat."
In most cases, people don't go to the extreme of exercise
addiction, Fick says. "The majority of people in the United States
eat too much and exercise too little. Children have become more
sedentary over the past 10 years. Nationally, children today get less
exercise and their weight is increasing."
Variety and moderation are the keys to a good exercise regimen.
See your physician before starting any exercise program. If you have
questions regarding exercise addiction, see your physician.