Unifying Concepts

Diagnostic Criteria for Addiction to Physical Exercises

Regular exercising has many health benefits and is rightly seen as positive, socially acceptable behavior. However, for the same reason, there is a high risk that patients and clinicians may overlook the danger of exercise addiction that causes harm in the somatic, emotional and interpersonal spheres.

Diagnostic Criteria for Addiction to Physical Exercises

Despite the fact that no binding classification (ICD-11, ICD-10, DSM-5) describes exercise addiction, it is included in the canon of behavioral addiction based on diagnostic criteria defining addiction. The pathology of the phenomenon is evidenced by the presence of the process of neuroadaptation (the appearance of withdrawal symptoms and increasing tolerance) and disregard for the negative health consequences of excessive exercise.
Criteria for identifying primary exercise addiction include:

  1. Preoccupation with exercises that become stereotyped and routine. Focusing on them at the expense of other life activities.
  2. The presence of emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms, such as mood swings, irritability, and insomnia. Relief of withdrawal symptoms by further exercise (exercises regulate mood levels).
  3. The deterioration in the physical, social and professional functioning resulting from preoccupation with exercises.
  4. There are no other disorders explaining the presence of excessive preoccupation with exercise. The goal of weight loss is to improve the quality of exercise.



  1. Martyniak E, Wyszomirska J, Krzystanek M, Piekarska-Bugiel K, Stolarczyk A. Can’t get enough. Addiction to physical exercises: phenomenon, diagnostic criteria, etiology, therapy and research challenges. Psychiatr Pol. 2021 Dec 31;55(6):1357-1372. [Medline]
  2. 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 Oct;8(10):4069-81. [Medline]


Created May 17, 2022.

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