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Compulsive exercise: links, risks and challenges faced

Authors Lichtenstein MB, Hinze CJ, Emborg B, Thomsen F, Hemmingsen SD

Received 26 November 2016

Accepted for publication 5 February 2017

Published 30 March 2017 Volume 2017:10 Pages 85—95

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S113093

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Amy Norman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman


Mia Beck Lichtenstein,1 Cecilie Juul Hinze,2 Bolette Emborg,3 Freja Thomsen,2 Simone Daugaard Hemmingsen4

1Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark, 2Research Unit for Telepsychiatry and E-mental Health, Mental Health Services in the Region of Southern Denmark, Odense, 3Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, 4Research Unit, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Mental Health Services in the Region of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

Abstract: Compulsive exercise is a condition described since 1970s. It is characterized by a craving for physical training, resulting in uncontrollable excessive exercise behavior with harmful consequences, such as injuries and impaired social relations. It has not been accepted as a mental disorder in either International Classification of Diseases or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The aim of this literature review was to critically examine the research on links (comorbidity), risks (negative consequences), and challenges faced (problems in a treatment context). This review found that compulsive exercise is associated with eating disorder pathology, perfectionism, neuroticism, narcissism, and obsessive compulsive traits. The most prominent negative consequences were injuries, social impairment, and depression, but more research is needed to uncover the potential dysfunction resulting from compulsive exercise. As the condition is not recognized as a psychiatric disorder, studies on treatment interventions are sparse. Problems with compliance have been reported; therefore, motivational interviewing has been proposed as a treatment approach, in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy. This review summarizes and discusses findings on links/comorbidity, risks/negative consequences, and treatment challenges. We suggest that future studies should pay attention to both prevention and counseling in sports settings, where compulsive exercise appears, as the condition may be associated with ­harmful consequences.

Keywords: exercise addiction, measurement, comorbidity, negative consequences, treatment

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