The Exercise Dependence Scale

This excerpt is adapted from The Brave Athlete by Dr. Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson. Their cutting-edge brain training guide solves the 13 most common mental conundrums athletes face in their everyday training and in races. With The Brave Athlete, you can solve these problems to become mentally strong and make your brain your most powerful asset.

Are you “addicted” to exercise? 

By now you should know that we’re not actually measuring exercise “addiction,” but exercise dependence. That was a test to see if you’re still awake. Diagnosing an addiction, a compulsion, an obsession, or a dependency—or any other mental disorder—requires a clinical interview with a trained professional. When only paper and pencil “tests” are used, the professionals tend to use hesitant phrases like “may indicate,” and “possibly at risk for” when we see the results. This might seem a cop-out, but even psychologists know that most psychometric measures have the diagnostic validity of tasseography (look it up). The last thing we want is to have you convinced that you’re a raving lunatic when all you do is overtrain and moan. With those disclaimers in place, let’s see what brand of nuts you might be dealing with. 

The Exercise Dependence Scale 

Using the scale provided below, please rate the following statements as honestly as possible. The statements refer to current exercise beliefs and behaviors that have occurred in the past 3 months.

Never = 1  2  3  4  5  6 = Always

1. I exercise to avoid feeling irritable.
2. I exercise despite recurring physical problems.
3. I continually increase my exercise intensity to achieve the desired effects/benefits.
4. I am unable to reduce how long I exercise.
5. I would rather exercise than spend time with family/friends.
6. I spend a lot of time exercising.
7. I exercise longer than I intend to.
8. I exercise to avoid feeling anxious.
9. I exercise when injured.
10. I continually increase my exercise frequency to achieve the desired effects/benefits.
11. I am unable to reduce how often I exercise.
12. I think about exercise when I should be concentrating on work or school.
13. I spend most of my free time exercising.
14. I exercise longer than I expect I will.
15. I exercise to avoid feeling tense.
16. I exercise despite persistent physical problems.
17. I continually increase my exercise duration to achieve the desired effects/benefits.
18. I am unable to reduce how intensely I exercise.
19. I choose to exercise so that I can get out of spending time with family/friends.
20. I spend considerable time finding opportunities for and planning exercise for when I’m going to be away.*
21. I exercise longer than I plan to.
*This statement differs slightly from the original to better reflect exercising when away.
(Scale is reproduced by permission from H. A. Hausenblas and D. Symons-Downs, “How Much Is Too Much? The Development and Validation of the Exercise Dependence Scale,” Psychology and Health 17 (2000): 387–404.)

Phew. Now that’s over with, let’s do some basic math. Using the table below, add up your scores for the questions in each criterion.

The Brave Athlete BRAVE exercise dependence scale

Total Score (range 21–126):

Next, for each criterion, note the level of dependency corresponding to your score on that criterion. Finally, tally up the number of circled criteria for each level of dependency.

Number of criteria in each category:

The higher your total score, the more exercise-dependent you are. However, psychologists look beyond your total score and instead focus on the total number of DSM-5 criteria that you meet. If you have three of more in the “At Risk for Dependence” column, you would be considered to have exercise dependence. Congratulations. It’s official. Well, pending validation by a clinical interview with a trained professional. Ahem.

If you think you might have an exercise dependence, there are ways to work with your brain to get you to a healthier and happier place. The Brave Athlete has some strategies that might help.

The Brave Athlete solves the 13 most common mental conundrums athletes face in their everyday training and in races. Dr. Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson will help you take control of your brain so you can train harder, race faster, and better enjoy your sport.

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