Problematic exercise – a new behavioral addiction

Authors: Marinela Minodora Manea, Bogdana Susana Milea, Alexandra Câmpean

Affiliation: “Iuliu Haţieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy Cluj-Napoca, Clinical Psychology Department


The benefits of regular physical activity on health and quality of life are undeniable. Currently, many researchers draw at­tention to the fact that this healthy behavior might become under certain circumstances a behavior at risk for the development of dependence. Once the problem of excessive physical exercise was raised, different authors proposed a number of terms to define it: addiction, dependence, compulsive physical exercise. Today, the term exercise addiction is mainly used by researchers in this area. The lack of consensus in the literature regarding the definition of excessive physical exercise has led to its staged approach along a four-phase continuum (Freimuth et al., 2011). The results of this evaluation suggest that passing from a nor­mal to a problematic style of physical training occurs through a gradual increase of the daily exercise routine, in the context of an enhanced need to use physical activity as a coping mechanism. Regarding the possible etiology of excessive physical exer­cise, neurobiological and psychosocial hypotheses are considered. Data on the epidemiology of sport addiction have estimated a 3% prevalence in the general population. There are scales for the evaluation of excessive physical exercise, as well as studies that show which sports predispose more to sport dependence. Literature data suggest that 15-20% of sport-dependent persons have comorbidities such as other addictions or anorexia nervosa. In the literature, cognitive behavioral therapy is reported to have a success potential in these cases.

Keywords: problematic exercise, behavioral addiction, sport dependence, endogenous opioids, anorexia nervosa, compul­sivity, impulsivity

Problematic exercise – a new behavioral addiction