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Exercise Satiation: A New Concept

It may lead to people experiencing more satisfaction from physical activity.

Key points

  • Exercise satiation may help answer why people differ so much in their relationships with exercise.
  • Satiation reflects an organism's ability to achieve consummation of its drive state.
  • Biology may influence an individual’s experience and level of physical activity well-beyond choice and physical limitations.
Michael De Lazzer
Source: Michael De Lazzer

This groundbreaking concept may redefine how many view exercise. Published online in the International Journal of Eating Disorders on November 3, 2021, “Exercise Satiation: A Novel Theoretical Conceptualization for Problematic Exercise Observed in Eating Disorders” introduces exercise satiation, a theory likely applicable to common, non-pathological exercise, too.

Satiation may help answer why people are so different in their relationships (e.g., love it vs. dread it) and tolerance for exercise (e.g., too little, too much, or just right per health recommendations).

What is exercise satiation currently defined as? Our team, led by Jessica Barker, provided the following:

Although most commonly associated with food intake, satiation applies to a range of biological drives and reflects an organism's ability to achieve consummation of its drive state, which can be experienced as a state of completion or satisfaction.

Exercise and Satisfaction

People include exercise sessions in their schedules for various potential benefits. For example:

  • control weight,
  • improve mood
  • increase health
  • improve sleep
  • regulate energy
  • incorporate social interactions
  • test or challenge personal limits
  • feel strong.

However, people may not experience a sense of satisfaction in relation to physical activity, which can make exercising a daunting task. Also, rather than following an internal process concluding with cessation of the physical exertion, people may follow recommendations about duration rather than sensing their innate regulation. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests 150 minutes of less strenuous physical activity or 75 minutes of more cardio-demanding exercise per week. People focused on weight management via exercise may set their physical activity timing to “burn off” calories consumed. Still, others set exercise routines they like—or don’t like—to uphold (e.g., X-minutes, three times a week). Each of these can have a dutifulness to them.

Experiencing satisfying exercises would be different for each of us. This is similar to the concept of satiation in eating. Per our team, “Satiation is not the point of uncomfortable fullness or being physically unable to eat more; it is the point of satisfactory fullness. For example, when asked if a person would like additional food, one might say or think, ‘I’m full, and any more would become uncomfortable.’” As would be with a satisfying exercise session, various factors contribute to a satisfying meal—for instance, food selection, the meal company, and the setting. No single factor likely guarantees a person’s satisfaction with physical activity. A combination can affect a person’s level of satisfaction.

Problematic Exercise

People who experience problematic exercise may altogether avoid exercising, can’t stop exercising, or exercise beyond what’s in their best interest. Biological and psychological reasons may differ from what self-judgment explains the over-or under-exercise to be (e.g., “lazy”).

Western societies tend to attach moral judgments to both eating and exercise. Yet biology may have a say about a person’s relationship with and exercise experience beyond a person’s physical limitations.

The Possibilities

What if an individual may be able to:

  • change parts of their physical activity, so they can be more satisfied by it?
  • regulate exercise mindfully, through internal processes and experiences of “fullness” versus a timer?

Research involving exercise satiation may reveal these answers in the future.

Exercise satiation may help understand and correct problematic exercise, a common symptom experienced by those with eating disorders.

Although clinical eating disorders are disorders distinct from “normal” and “disordered” eating/exercise problems, eating disorders are considered the most severe on the spectrum of these related issues. If something can help someone with an eating disorder, then there’s a good chance it can help someone alleviate a “milder” or related version of the behavioral problem.


Exercise satiation may play a vital role in eventually helping people to improve a range of issues with exercise. As is well-known, appropriate and non-problematic exercise benefits our physical and mental health.


Barker, J. L., Kolar, D., Lazzer, A. S.-D., & Keel, P. K. (2021). Exercise Satiation: A novel theoretical conceptualization for problematic exercise observed in eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 1–4.