What Is Exercise Addiction?





What Distinguishes Exercising from Exercise Addiction?

Salience  The activity becomes the most important thing in a person’s life; daily activities  are planned around a rigid exercise regimen
Conflicts  Conflicts with friends/family due to the addiction.
Mood Modification  Exercise is used to alter mood as a coping strategy to regulate emotions
Tolerance  Increasing amounts of exercise are required to achieve the same rush of  endorphins
Withdrawal  Unpleasant feelings, even depression, occur when exercise is prevented or  reduced
Loss of Control  Unable to limit the time that is devoted to exercise; cannot properly perform  duties at home and/or work




Obsessive and compulsive symptoms

  • Obsessions: there is a preoccupation with exercise when it is prevented or delayed. This creates heightened levels of anxiety, which are then decreased when the exercise is performed.
  • Compulsions: relief after the exercise is performed is only temporary. The urge to exercise begins again as anxiety levels rise.


spectrum exercise

  • Physiological repercussions:
    1. Decreased testosterone response
    2. Loss of emotional vigor
    3. Immunosuppression
    4. Decreased maximum oxygen uptake
    5. Decreased blood lactate
    6. Increased muscle wasting (due to cortisol response)


Co-morbidities: Two types of exercise addiction

Main distinction: Presence of an eating disorder

Primary Exercise Addiction
  • Addiction manifests itself as a behavioral addiction
  • Reason to over-exercise: escape negative emotions due to persistent and uncontrollable stress
  • Objective = exercise
Secondary Exercise Addiction
  • Addiction is co-morbid with an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa
  • Reason to over-exercise: to lose weight
  • Objective = weight loss


Case Study: Sarah Hicks