Exercise Addiction


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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Emilio Landolfi.

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

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