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Br J Sports Med. 2000 Apr;34(2):125-32.

The pathological status of exercise dependence.

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  • 1School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.



This study was concerned with the concept of exercise dependence. Levels of psychological morbidity, personality profiles, and exercise beliefs were compared among subjects screened for exercise dependence and eating disorders.


Adult female exercisers were allocated on the basis of questionnaire screening to one of the following groups: primary exercise dependence (n = 43); secondary exercise dependence, where there was the coincidence of exercise dependence and an eating disorder (n = 27); eating disorder (n =14); control, where there was no evidence of either exercise dependence or eating disorder (n = 110). Questionnaire assessment was undertaken of psychological morbidity, self esteem, weight and body shape dissatisfaction, personality, and exercise beliefs.


Aside from a higher incidence of reported menstrual abnormalities, the primary exercise dependence group was largely indistinguishable from the controls. In stark contrast, the secondary exercise dependence group reported higher levels of psychological morbidity, neuroticism, dispositional addictiveness, and impulsiveness, lower self esteem, greater concern with body shape and weight, as well as with the social, psychological, and aesthetic costs of not exercising than the controls, but differed little from the eating disorder group.


In the absence of an eating disorder, women identified as being exercise dependent do not exhibit the sorts of personality characteristics and levels of psychological distress that warrant the construction of primary exercise dependence as a widespread pathology.

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