Exercise and addiction

96px-Weighted_sit-ups_on_an_exercise_ballAccording to the Daily Mail, neuroscientists from Tufts University, Boston suggest that exercise can be as addictive as heroin. Apparently ‘mild exercise such as jogging or bike riding can turn into triathlons and 100-mile bike rides.’ Biologists direct our attention to adrenalin, endorphins and even a genetic disposition to addictive behaviours, whereas, as social psychologists we are interested in the social conditioning aspect of that behaviour. Addictive behaviour then, is described in terms of its ability to resolve ego deficiencies or other psychological deficits—brought on, for example, by fear of social ridicule.

With much of society now focused on obesity and with an abundance of media images and articles describing how one can get the perfect body, it is hardly surprising that obsessive exercising is increasing or claimed to be as addictive as heroin. As social psychologists it is worth pausing for a moment to consider some of the gendered aspects of extreme exercise addiction. For example, Grogan and Richards (2002) suggest that male bodybuilders were using steroids to develop bigger muscles in an attempt to embody and display masculinity. Whereas Jansen et al. (2006) suggested that some women dieting and exercising for a feminine looking slim and curvy body, had developed the potentially fatal condition of anorexia athletica.


Exercise can be as addictive as heroin


The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive–sensitization view


Theory of Addiction

One response to “Exercise and addiction

  1. There’s an interesting television documentary on extreme male body-building called ‘The man whose arms exploded’.

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