What is Exercise Dependence? Exercise dependence (also referred to as negative addiction, compulsion, obsession) is physical activity that is extreme in frequency and duration, relatively resistant to change, and it is often associated with an irresistible impulse to continue exercise despite injury, illness, fatigue, or other personal demands (Hausenblas & Symons Downs, 2002a).

Exercise Dependence Criteria: The criteria for exercise dependence are based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV, 1994) criteria for substance dependence as well as previous research (e.g., Ogden et al., 1997; Veale, 1995). While the DSM-IV does not have specific criteria for execise dependence, the criteria for substance dependence were used as the framework. Exercise dependence is conceptualized and measured as a multidimensional maladaptive pattern of exercise, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following:

          (1) Tolerance: need for increased amounts of exercise to achieve desired effect; diminished effect with continued use of same amount of exercise
          (2) Withdrawal: characteristic withdrawal symptoms for exercise (e.g., anxiety, fatigue) or exercise is taken to relieve or avoid symptoms
          (3) Intention Effect: exercise is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
          (4) Lack of Control: a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control exercise           
          (5) Time: a great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain exercise (e.g., physical activity vacations)
          (6) Reduction in Other Activities: social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of exercise
          (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).

The Exercise Dependence Scale-21 is based on the 7 aforementioned exercise dependence criteria (Hausenblas & Symons Downs, 2002a, 2002b) and it can be dowloaded free as a part of the User's Manual for the Exercise Dependence Scale (pdf document)     

For more information on current exercise dependence research, please visit: Dr. Hausenblas' Exercise Psychology Laboratory at the University of Florida and Dr. Danielle Symons Downs' Exercise Psychology Laboratory at The Pennsylvania State University