Prevalence of exercise dependence and other behavioral addictions among clients of a Parisian fitness room

Michel Lejoyeux, Marine Avril, Charlotte Richoux, Houcine Embouazza, Fabrizia Nivoli
Comprehensive Psychiatry 2008, 49 (4): 353-8

AIM OF THE STUDY: Exercise dependence is an inadequate pattern of exercise leading to clinically significant negative consequences. Subjects present loss of control of their physical activity, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when they do not practice sport. We studied the prevalence of exercise dependence among clients of a Parisian fitness room. We also assessed alcohol and nicotine use disorders, 2 other "socially tolerated" behavioral addictions (compulsive buying and Internet addiction), and 2 disorders related to anxiety focused on the body (bulimia and hypochondria).

METHOD: All clients of the fitness room 18 years and older were invited to participate in the study. Three hundred subjects were included; 125 (42%) presented diagnostic criteria of exercise dependence. Unsurprisingly, exercise dependents spent more hours each day in the fitness center practicing (2.1 vs 1.5 hours per day). They went to the fitness center more often each week (3.5 vs 2.9 days per week). Exercise addicts smoked less; alcohol consumption was equivalent in both groups. Compulsive buying was significantly more frequent in exercise dependents (63% vs 38%), which means they scored higher in the compulsive buying scale (5.4 vs 4.1). Prevalence of hypochondria was equivalent in both groups, but scores in the Whiteley Index of Hypochondria were higher (4.1 vs 3) in the exercise-dependent group. Bulimia was significantly more frequent among exercise dependents (70% vs 47%), who also presented a higher number of bulimic episodes each week (2.5 vs 1.3). Subjects with exercise dependence spent more time on their computer each day (3.9 vs 2.4 hours per day). We found no difference regarding time spent using Internet, the number of e-mails sent or received, and their time at speaking on a cellular phone.

CONCLUSION: Our results lead to systematically study the addictive relation to exercise among regular clients of the fitness rooms. Exercise addicts are exposed to negative consequences for their excess of physical activity. Exercise addiction is also associated to compulsive buying, bulimia, and, in a lesser extent, hypochondria.

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