Exercise Addiction


No doubt, proper exercise is essential to a healthy life. Exercise prevents disease, keeps a person feeling good and has many other health and psychological benefits. But taken too far, or combined with a body dimorphic disorder, exercise can turn into an addiction – and even be deadly.

Other names for exercise dependence

s  Exercise addiction

s  Compulsive athleticism

s  Compulsive exercise

s  Exercise abuse

s  Obligatory exercise

s  Anorexia athletica

Although there is no official DSM-IV definition for it, exercise dependence can be described as “physical activity that is extreme in frequency and duration, relatively resistant to change, and often accompanied by an irresistible impulse to exercise even when injury, fatigue, or other personal demands persist”

Criteria for Dependence

s  (1) Tolerance: need for increased amounts of exercise to achieve desired effect; diminished effect with continued use of same amount of exercise

s  (2) Withdrawal: characteristic withdrawal symptoms for exercise (e.g., anxiety, fatigue) or exercise is taken to relieve or avoid symptoms

s  (3) Intention Effect: exercise is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended

s  (4) Lack of Control: a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control exercise          

s  (5) Time: a great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain exercise (e.g., physical activity vacations)

s  (6) Reduction in Other Activities: social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of exercise

s  (7) Continuance: exercise is continued despite knowledge of having a persisting/recurriing physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the exercise (e.g., continued running despite injury).

Signs and Symptoms of Exercise Dependence

s  Interferes with daily life, your job, relationships, physical health

s  If you don’t work out, you believe that something bad will happen

s  Ignore signs of illness, injury or fatigue and continue to exercise despite the warning signs

s  Neglect friends and loved ones in favor of working out

s  Perfectionist body image and attitude toward your physical self

s  You set goals which are unrealistic and unattainable (miles run, hours worked out, calories burned, body fat percentage)

Ignoring your body and friends or family and continuing to compulsively exercise can have sever consequences.


s  Anxiety

s  Depression

s  Worthlessness

s  Insomnia


s  Neglect relationships

s  Social withdrawal


s  Damaged tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, and joints

s  Loss of muscle mass

s  Ammhenorea (females) – Osteoperosis

s  Eating Disorders

s  Gastro-intestinal blood loss and anemia

s  Myocardial infarction and death

Treatment is possible and available for exercise addiction. Many traditional therapies have been proven to be effective to the compulsive excersiser. A therapist who specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is one path.

s  Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for treating many disorders including addiction

s  Major advocate, Steve Hayes

s  Not to fight negative feelings but to accept them as part of life

s  Mindfulness

Work toward life values

s  Cognitive therapy strategy is normally to change negative feelings, not accept them

s  Multiple studies showed that ACT proved more effective than regular cognitive therapy including ones on depression (Haynes 2006) and psychotics (Haynes 2002)

s  Criticized for being too much like a religion

s  Tranquilizers

s  Medicine

s  Tranquilizers

s  Antidepressants

s  Treatment Centers