Updated on May 17, 2024
4 min read

How Common Is Exercise Addiction?

Exercise addiction is a condition characterized by an unhealthy obsession with physical fitness and exercise. Unfortunately, this addiction has emerged as a significant concern in recent years. 

While regular physical activity is essential for maintaining good health, excessive and compulsive exercise can lead to severe physical and psychological consequences.

This article explores the latest statistics on exercise addiction, shedding light on its prevalence, demographic factors, health risks, and treatment trends.

Prevalence of Exercise Addiction

The following statistics highlight the prevalence of exercise addiction across different populations:

  • The study examined a group of national-level athletes and found that 7.6% were at high risk of exercise addiction. 
  • The athletes answered questions about their exercise habits, and on average they scored 17.7 on a test where a higher score means a greater risk of addiction. The scores ranged from 13.6 to 21.8.
  • Another study reported the prevalence rate of exercise addiction as 4.0% in school athletes, 8.7% in fitness attendees, and 21% in patients with eating disorders.
  • A meta-analysis of 13 studies, including 3,635 participants, revealed an overall prevalence rate of 6.2% among amateur athletes.
Excercise Addiction Statistics

Demographic Factors in Exercise Addiction

Exercise addiction affects individuals across various demographic groups, with certain factors influencing its prevalence.

Gender and Age Differences

  • Most studies report a higher prevalence of exercise addiction among men. This could be attributed to higher rates of men participating in sports and exercise as a hobby.
  • While exercise addiction can affect individuals of any age, early research suggests it predominantly affects young adults and adolescents.
  • More recent studies indicate that older individuals can also experience exercise dependence.

Professional and College Athletes

  • Professional and college athletes are at a higher risk for exercise addiction, with incidences of high-risk exercise addiction ranging between 7% and 42% in the athletic population.
  • Sports that emphasize a particular body image, such as ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, or running, are especially associated with higher risks.

Co-occurring Mental Health Conditions

  • People with co-occurring mental illnesses are more at risk for developing exercise addiction.
  • The mental illnesses may include eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, and certain personality traits
  • Those with a history of addiction or substance abuse issues and those with body image issues or low self-esteem are also more susceptible to exercise addiction.

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Health Risks of Over-Exercising

Statistics play a crucial role in highlighting the health risks associated with over-exercising:

  • The "Extreme Exercise Hypothesis" suggests a U-shaped or reverse J-shaped curve relationship between the volume of physical activity and cardiovascular health outcomes. This indicates that insufficient and excessive exercise can lead to health issues.
  • A study suggests that people who exercise 3 to 5 times more than the recommended amount get the most health benefits in terms of reducing their risk of death from any cause. 
  • The study also found that people who exercise 10 times or more than the recommended amount still have a lower risk of death compared to those who don't exercise at all, but the additional benefits are less significant.
  • About 60% of elite male and female runners experienced nonfunctional overreaching (NFO) at least once in their careers, highlighting the fine line between optimal training and overtraining.

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Treatment Trends and Success

The treatment of exercise addiction has shown promising trends. These are some ways that have helped people with exercise addiction develop healthier coping mechanisms:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is highlighted as a very treatable method for exercise addiction, suggesting that individuals can learn to identify behaviors, thoughts, and self-beliefs that lead to their addiction.
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) has been specifically mentioned for its effectiveness in reducing irrational beliefs and psychological distress while simultaneously increasing psychological well-being in individuals with exercise addiction.

Exercise addiction is a complex and often overlooked condition that affects people across various demographic groups. The statistics presented in this article underscore the prevalence of exercise addiction, its potential health risks, and the importance of recognizing and addressing this issue.

As our understanding of exercise addiction grows, it’s crucial to develop and implement effective prevention and treatment strategies.  Furthermore, healthcare professionals, fitness trainers, and coaches should be trained to recognize and address exercise addiction. This ensures that individuals receive appropriate guidance and intervention when needed. 

By working together to address this overlooked epidemic, we can help individuals develop healthy relationships with exercise and promote overall well-being.

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Updated on May 17, 2024

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