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We all know that exercise is good for us, but it can become a problem if you’re doing it too much. Recognise the tell-tale signs of compulsive exercising and learn who to turn to for help.

This can help if:

  • exercise has become the most important part of your life
  • you feel guilty and stressed if you miss a workout
  • you feel like you have to exercise even when you’re injured or sick.
Couple running

When exercising becomes a problem

Regular exercise is important for our physical and mental health. But exercising too much (excessive exercise) or having strong urges to exercise (compulsive exercise) might mean it’s taking over your life, rather than being a healthy part of it.

An important question to ask yourself is, 'Why do I exercise?' Do you do it to stay healthy and because it’s something you enjoy? If so, that’s great! But if you exercise because you’ll feel guilty or bad if you don’t, this could be a sign of something more serious.

What is compulsive exercising?

If you think about exercising a lot, particularly while doing other things, or you have very strong and frequent urges to exercise, you might have an exercise compulsion. Compulsive exercise can be linked to psychological illnesses such as eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder. For example, feeling driven to exercise because of extreme concerns about your weight or body shape might be a sign of an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Or exercising because you fear that something bad will happen if you don't (such as a loved one might pass away or you might have a car accident) could be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What does exercising too much look like?

Do you focus too much on exercise in your life? Here are some things to consider:

Healthy exercise Compulsive exercise
Exercise is part of your weekly routine You prioritise workouts over other important things such as school, work, family, friends or even sleep
Your workouts help to relieve stress Your workouts are driven by stress
You feel a little annoyed if you can’t make it to the gym You feel intense anxiety and guilt just thinking about missing a workout
You can accept that rest and time out from exercise are sometimes necessary You feel the need to exercise even when you’re injured or sick 

Getting help

It can be tricky to draw the line between a healthy amount of exercise and too much exercise. ReachOut NextStep is a great place to start if you’re wondering whether you exercise too much. A mental health professional can also help you to identify or understand your feelings about exercise.

You can talk to your doctor to get a mental health-care plan and visit a mental health professional for free. But if you need to speak to someone right away, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to someone you trust about how much you’re exercising.
  • Try to practise some self-care and find something you love doing that doesn’t involve exercising.
  • Read up on eating disorders and body image issues on the Butterfly Foundation website.