Exercise Addiction

Abstract

This article examines the nature of exercise addiction. It presents a broad, congruent and discerning narrative literature review with the aim of providing a deeper understanding of the condition ‘exercise addiction’, including symptoms and options for treatment. In addition, guidelines are provided with respect to ‘healthy’ levels of exercise. Criteria used for determining the eligibility of studies evaluated in the review included the provision of relevant information in studies identified using pertinent search terms. The review highlights some of the key distinctions between healthy levels of exercise and exercise addiction. The findings suggest that an individual who is addicted to exercise will continue exercising regardless of physical injury, personal inconvenience or disruption to other areas of life including marital strain, interference with work and lack of time for other activities. ‘Addicted’ exercisers are more likely to exercise for intrinsic rewards and experience disturbing deprivation sensations when unable to exercise. In contrast, ‘committed’ exercisers engage in physical activity for extrinsic rewards and do not suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when they cannot exercise. Exercisers must acquire a sense of life-balance while embracing an attitude conducive to sustainable long-term physical, psychological and social health outcomes. Implementation of recommendations by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, which states that all apparently healthy adults between 18 and 64 years of age should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate (5 or 6 on a scale of 0–10) to vigorous (7 or 8 on a scale of 0–10) intensity aerobic physical activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more, also expressed as 30 minutes per day distributed over 5 days per week, would be a good start.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. 1.

    McArdle WD, Katch FI, Katch VL. Exercise physiology: energy, nutrition, and human performance. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Can Med Assoc J. 2006;174(6):801–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Prescribing exercise as preventive therapy. Can Med Assoc J. 2006;174(7):961–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Fahey TD, Insel PM, Roth WY, et al. Fit & well: core concepts and labs in physical fitness and wellness. Toronto (ON): McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Donatelle RJ, Thompson AM. Health: the basics. Toronto (ON): Pearson Education Canada, 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Kriska A. Physical activity and the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus: how much for how long? Sports Med. 2000;29(3):147–51.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Blair SN, Kohl HW, Paffenbarger RS, et al. Physical fitness and all-cause mortality: a prospective study of healthy men and women. J Am Med Assoc. 1989;262(17):2395–401.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Corbin CB, Lindsey R. Concepts of fitness and wellness. Boston (MA): McGraw Hill, 1997.

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Yates A. Compulsive exercise and eating disorders: toward an integrated theory of activity. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1991.

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Szabo A. The impact of exercise deprivation on well-being of habitual exercisers. Aust J Sci Med Sport. 1995;27:68–75.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Szabo A. Studying the psychological impact of exercise deprivation: are experimental studies hopeless? J Sport Behav. 1998;21:139–47.

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Szabo A. Physical activity and psychological dysfunction. In: Biddle S, Fox K, Boutcher S, editors. Physical activity and psychological well-being. London: Routledge, 2000. p. 130–53.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Smith LL. Overtraining, excessive exercise, and altered immunity. Sports Med. 2003;33(5):347–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Baekeland F. Exercise deprivation: sleep and psychological reactions. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1970;22:365–9.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Allegre B, Souville M, Therme P, et al. Definitions and measures of exercise dependence. Addict Res Theory. 2006;14(6):631–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Lauer H. The new Americans: defining ourselves through sports and fitness participation. Boston (MA): American Sports Data Inc., 2006.

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Jones A. “… And God laughs:” an autobiography by Arthur Jones. Sudbury: Bodyworx Publishing, 1994.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Cox R, Oxford J. A qualitative study of the meaning of exercise for people who could be labelled as ‘addicted’ to exercise: can ‘addiction’ be applied to high frequency exercising? Addict Res Theory. 2004;12(2):167–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Saul R. How to avoid the disaster of overtraining. Iron Man. 1982;41(6):15, 74.

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Draeger J. The obligatory exerciser. Phys Sportsmed. 2005;33(6):13–23.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Szabo A, Griffiths MD. Exercise addiction in British sport science students. Int J Ment Health Addict. 2007;5(1):25–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Greenberg JS, Dintiman GB, Myers Oakes B, et al. Physical fitness & wellness. Toronto (ON): Pearson Education, 2004.

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Griffiths MD. Exercise addiction: a case study. Addict Res. 1997;5:161–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Villella C, Martinotti G, Di Nicla M, et al. Behavioural addictions in adolescents and young adults: results from a prevalence study. J Gambl Stud. 2011;27:203–14.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Leuenberger A. Endorphins, exercise, and addictions: a review of exercise dependence. Impulse. 2006;1–9.

  26. 26.

    Le Grange D, Eisler I. The link between anorexia nervosa and excessive exercise: a review. Eur Eat Dis Rev. 1993;1:100–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Hausenblas HA, Symons Downs D. Exercise dependence: a systematic review. Psychol Sport Exerc. 2002;3:89–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Mónok K, Berczik K, Urbán R, et al. Psychometric properties and concurrent validity of two exercise addiction measures: a population wide study. Psychol Sport Exerc. 2012;13(6):739–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Freimuth M, Moniz S, Kim SR. Clarifying exercise addiction: differential diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, and phases of addiction. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011;8:4069–81.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Yates A, Leehey K, Shisslak C. Running an analogue of anorexia. N Engl J Med. 1983;308:251–5.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Veale D. Exercise dependence. Br J Addict. 1987;82:735–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Terry A, Szabo A, Griffiths M. The exercise addiction inventory: a new brief screening tool. Addict Res Theory. 2004;12(5):489–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Glasser W. Positive addictions. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Szabo A, Frenkl R, Caputo A. Relationships between addiction to running, commitment to running, and deprivation from running: a study on the internet. Eur J Sport Psychol. 1997;1:130–47.

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Rozin P, Stoess C. Is there a general tendency to become addicted? Addict Behav. 1993;18:81–7.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Adams J, Kirby R. Exercise dependence: a problem for sports physiotherapists. Aust Phys Ther. 1997;43(1):53–8.

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Polivy J, Clendenen V. Exercise and compulsive behavior. Paper presented at the proceedings of The Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Aug 20–24 1993. Toronto (ON): APA, 1993.

  38. 38.

    Sachs ML. Running addiction. In: Sacks M, Sachs M, editors. Psychology of running. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1981. p. 116–26.

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Waldstreicher J. Anorexia nervosa presenting as morbid exercising. Lancet. 1985;325:987.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Morgan WP. Negative addiction in runners. Phys Sportsmed. 1979;7:57–70.

    Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Veale DMW. Psychological-aspects of staleness and dependence on exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1991;12:S19–22.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Veale DMW. Does primary exercise dependence really exist? In: Annet J, Cripps B, Steinberg H, editors. Exercise addiction: motivation for participation in sport and exercise. Leicester: The British Psychological Society, 1995. p. 1–5.

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Berczik K, Szabo A, Griffiths MD, et al. Exercise addiction: symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Subst Use Misuse. 2012;47(4):403–17.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Goldfarb AH, Jamurtas AZ. Beta-endorphin response to exercise: an update. Sports Med. 1997;24(1):8–16.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Kjaer M, Dela F. Endocrine response to exercise. In: Hoffman-Goetz L, editor. Exercise and immune function. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press, 1996. p. 6–8.

    Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Grant E. The exercise fix. Psychol Today. 1988;22:24–8.

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Zalewska-Kaszubska J, Czarnecka E. Deficit in beta-endorphin peptide and tendency to alcohol abuse. Peptides. 2005;26:701–5.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Bird PJ. Exercise addiction: keeping fit (online). http://www.hhp.ufl.edu/faculty/pbird/keepingfit/ARTICLE/EXADDICT.HTM. Accessed 18 July 2011.

  49. 49.

    Sachs ML. Compliance and addiction to exercise. In: Cantu CR, editor. The exercising adult. Boston (MA): Collamore Press, 1992. p. 19–27.

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Chapman CL, De Castro JM. Running addiction: measurement and associated psychological characteristics. J Sport Med Phys Fit. 1990;30:283–90.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Anshel MH. A psychobehavioral analysis of addicted versus non-addicted male and female exercisers. J Sport Behav. 1991;14:145–54.

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Loumidis KS, Roxborough H. A cognitive-behavioral approach to excessive exercise. In: Annett J, Cripps B, Steinberg H, editors. Exercise addiction: motivation for performance in sport and exercise. An occasional paper for the Sport and Exercise Psychology Section of The British Psychological Society based on proceedings of a one-day workshop at Warwick University. Leicester: British Psychological Society; 1995. p. 45–53.

  53. 53.

    Cockerill IM, Riddington ME. Exercise dependence and associated disorders: a review. Couns Psychol Q. 1996;9:119–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Adams JM, Miller TW, Kraus RF. Exercise dependence: diagnostic and therapeutic issues for patients in psychotherapy. J Contemp Psychother. 2003;33(2):93–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Thornton EW, Scott SE. Motivation in the committed runner: correlation between self-report scales and behavior. Health Promot Int. 1995;10:177–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Freimuth M. Addicted? Recognizing destructive behavior before it’s too late. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Klein DA, Bennett AS, Schebendach J, et al. Exercise “addiction” in anorexia nervosa: model development and pilot data. Cent Nerv Syst Spectr. 2004;97(7):531–7.

    Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Stoliaroff S. Know the signs of unhealthy exercise addiction. Running Fit News. 2003;18(6):4–5.

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Asp K. Addicted to exercise. Am Fit. 1999;64–6.

  60. 60.

    Empfield D. How much is too much (online). http://www.slowtwitch.com/mainheadings/coachcorn/overtraining.html. Accessed 3 Aug 2009.

  61. 61.

    Fisher LA, Wrisberg CA. Recognizing and dealing with exercise addiction. Athl Ther Today. 2004;9(1):36–7.

    Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Cumella EJ. The heavy weight of exercise addiction: treating this often-overlooked disorder can save patients’ lives. Behav Health Manage. 2005;25(5):26–31.

    Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Jenkins M. Overtraining syndrome (online). http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/overtraining.html. Accessed 11 Aug 2001.

  64. 64.

    McGough S. Exercise addiction and eating disorders (online). http://www.mclean.harvard.edu/pdf/news/fitnessmanage0704.pdf. Accessed 6 Aug 2004.

  65. 65.

    Chalmers J, Catalan J, Day A, et al. Anorexia nervosa presenting as morbid exercising. Lancet. 1985;1:286–7.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Coen SP, Ogles BM. Psychological characteristics of the obligatory runner: a critical examination of the anorexia analogue hypothesis. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 1993;15:338–54.

    Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Despres R. Burn baby burn. Womens Sport Fit. 1997;19(4):38–43.

    Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Katz JL. Long-distance running, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia; a report of two cases. Compr Psychiatry. 1986;2:74–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Dishman RK. Medical psychology in exercise and sport. Med Clin N Am. 1985;69:123–43.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Little JK. The athlete’s neurosis: a deprivation crisis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 1969;45:187–97.

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Little JC. Psychological effect of chronic physical activity. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 1970;2:213–7.

    Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Adkins EC, Keel PK. Does ‘excessive’ or ‘compulsive’ best describe exercise as a symptom of bulimia nervosa? Int J Eat Disorder. 2005;38:24–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. 73.

    Biddle S, Cavill N, Sallis J. Policy framework for young people and health-enhancing physical activity. In: Biddle S, Sallis J, Cavill N, editors. Young and active? Young people and health-enhancing physical activity: evidence and implications. London: Health Education Authority; 1998. p. 3–16.

    Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Thompson WR, editor. ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. 8th ed. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian physical activity guidelines (online). http://www.csep.ca/guidelines. Accessed 17 July 2011.

  76. 76.

    Sachs ML, Pargman D. Running addiction: a depth interview examination. J Sport Behav. 1979;2:143–55.

    Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    De Moor MHM, Beem AL, Stubbe JH, et al. Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: a population based study. Prev Med. 2006;42:273–9.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Landolfi E. Girls’ underachievement in highs school science: a study examining attitudes and achievement in single-sex vs. coed schools (thesis). Toronto (ON): University of Toronto, 1997.

  79. 79.

    Spieker MR. Exercise dependence in a pregnant runner. J Am Board Fam Pract. 1996;9:188–221.

    Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Blaydon MJ, Linder KJ, Kerr JH. Metamotivational characteristics of exercise dependence and eating disorders in highly active amateur sports participants. Pers Individ Differ. 2004;36(6):1419–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Adams J. Understanding exercise addiction. J Contemp Psychother. 2009;39:231–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Wichmann S, Martin DR. Exercise excess: treating patients addicted to fitness. Phys Sportsmed. 1992;20:193–200.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge the University of the Fraser Valley’s Scholarly Activity Program for providing a section course release, as well as the University Research Office for providing a student researcher (Ms. Ashley Hoogendoorn) to assist with the literature search and article reviews for this work. The author also reports no conflicts of interest, and he alone is responsible for the content and writing of this article.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emilio Landolfi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Landolfi, E. Exercise Addiction. Sports Med 43, 111–119 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-012-0013-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Physical Activity
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Eating Disorder
  • Withdrawal Symptom
  • Exercise Dependence