Compulsive exercise: links, risks and challenges faced

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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.

TidsskriftPsychology Research and Behavior Management
Sidetal (fra-til)85-95
StatusUdgivet - 2017


  • Exercise addiction, Compulsive exercise, Eating disorders, Personality, Prevalence, Treatment

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