Can exercise, with its positive links to mental health and wellness, have an equal but opposite effect?  Can exercise, both the thought of exercise and the actual physical act, become dangerous to ones mental health? What effect does this have on the mind and body? What about people who simply have exercise dependency.  People who depend on exercise and it’s stimulation effects as a sort of “drug.”  We have previously discussed using exercise as a “drug” to treat illnesses or increase mood, however, like any drug, what is said about abuse?

“Exercise dependence (also termed morbid, obligatory, compulsive, or addictive exercise) is an unhealthy and excessive exercise behavior manifested by a constellation of psychological impairments/distress such as unhealthy tolerance of exercise intensity/frequency, psychological withdrawal when unable to exercise, exercise more than intended, lack of control over exercise, a great deal of time spent in activities, reduction in other activities because of exercise, or continuing to exercise despite recurrent physical and/or psychological problems (Hausenblas & Symons Downs, 2002a, 2002b; Symons Downs, Hausenblas, & Nigg, 2004).”  It is believed that when exercise becomes the center of individuals’ lives or they repeatedly ignore the responsibilities of their job family, and other obligations, it can become detrimental to the global well-being (Baekeland, 1970; Szabo, 1995; Hausenblas& Symons Downs, 2002a, 2002b).

A few psychophysiological perspectives, such as the endorphin hypothesis (Pierce, Eastman, Tripathi, Ohon, & Dewey, 1993), the sympathetic arousal hypothesis (Thompson & Blanton, 1987), and the affect regulation hypothesis (Hunck & Blumenthal, 1992) have been speculated to create an understanding for exercise dependence. 

Pierce et al. (1993) claim that endorphins have shown the ability to create addictive behavioral tendencies in individuals. However, their study (which did demonstrate an increase in endorphin levels after high-intensity aerobics) did not find a significant relationship between endorphin production increase and exercise dependence. These results were based on an exercise-dependence survey taken before the exercise.  Currently, it remains difficult to determine what exactly causes exercise dependence and if endorphins play a role at alEl.  What is known is that exercise dependency does exist, it can be life altering to those who are struggling with it and can directly affect those closest relationships to them. 

Hausenblas, H. A., & Giacobbi, P. R. (2004) Relationship between exercise symptoms and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 1265-1273.

Hausenblas, H. A., & Symons Downs, D. (2002a) Exercise dependence: a systematic review. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 3, 89-123.

Jing-Horing Lu, F., Ya-Wen Hsu, E., Junn-Ming, W., Mei-Yao, H., Jo-Ning, C., & Chien-Hsin, W. (2012). Exercisers’ identities and exercise dependence: The mediating effect of exercise commitment.  Perceptual & motor skills, 115(2), 618-631.

Leuenberger, A. (2006). Endorphins, exercise, and addictions: A review of exercise dependence.  Impule: the premier Journal for undergraduate: Publications in neurosciences. 1-9.