Exercise is important for the overall health and wellbeing of all people. People engage in physical activity for a variety of reasons. For some, being healthy is their only reason for exercising; for others, it may be to build more muscle, or gain endurance. “Exercise involves planned, structured, repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain physical fitness. ” Exercise should always be beneficial; however excessive exercise can lead to harmful outcomes, and in come cases exercise can become an addiction.
Exercise addiction has many of the same characteristics seen drug addiction such as: tolerance withdrawal, lack of control, intention effects, time, reduction in other activities, and continuance. Researchers have developed conceptually sound diagnostic criteria for exercise dependence, but have yet to determine a suitably convincing mechanism for its onset. In order to determine what type of interventions would be effective for treating or overcoming exercise addiction, researchers must first have an understanding of what causes the addiction.
Understanding what psychological and physiological mechanisms are present in exercise addiction can help researchers to develop an intervention that will address all factors that nurture the addiction. The purpose of this study is to examine existing literature on the underlying mechanisms that could be responsible for the onset of exercise addiction in individuals in order to determine what types of intervention are needed to effectively treat exercise addiction. The study will include interviews to assess exercise addiction.
Theoretical background In 1977, psychiatrist George L. Engel released an article, The Need for a New Medical Model: A Challenge for Biomedicine, in which he proposed the Biopsychosocial Model, or BPSM. 1 “The Biopsychosocial Model is a method of understanding health and illness through biological, psychological, and social factors. ” 2 Prior to Engel’s model, the Medical Model was the primary approach to medicine. The Medical Model focused on finding a single specific cause of illness to cure the disease, not the person as a whole. In The Need for a New Medical Model, Engel outlined weaknesses of the Medical Model.
Engel addressed the Medical Model as a reductionist approach to medicine. 3 The Medical Model suggested that all diseases could be reduced to a single underlying “measurable biological variable” and treated without consideration of the other factors that may be related to the onset of the disease or illness. 1 (p 319) According to Engel: …a medical model must also take into account the patient, the social context in which he lives, and the complementary system devised by society to deal with the disruptive effects of illness, that is, the physician role and the health care system. This requires the Biopsychosocial model. (p324)
According to the Medical Model, health can be equated to an absence of disease. Engel argued that the biological factors found in the medical model are not sufficient to provide a full understanding of disease. The Medical Model neglected to take into consideration individuals who feel well and are diagnosed with a disease, as well as individuals who are free of disease but feel sick. Engel proposed, “a biopsychosocial model which includes the patient as well as the illness would encompass both circumstances. ” 1(p324) The BPSM explains disease through biological, psychological, and social factors.
The BPSM can be understood by examining the components of the model. 4 The biological component “plays a key role is the BPSM. ” 2 This component of the BPSM explains disease in relation to physiological causes such as pathogens or disorder in the functioning of the individual’s body. 5 A plausible biological mechanism of exercise addiction is the beta-endorphin hypothesis. “Aerobic exercise is known to stimulate the release of beta endorphin and other endogenous opioid peptides that appear to exert analgesic effects and may also produce addictive behaviors. Endorphins can block stress and create feeling of euphoria in an individual. Individuals who exercise excessively will be more receptive to endorphins and could potentially develop a tolerance for the hormone. Once the individual has developed a tolerance for the beta-endorphins, he or she will need to exercise longer and harder to achieve the same effects as before tolerance.
This leads to the individual engaging in addictive behaviors that can also be explained as psychological process. 7 The psychological component of the BPSM explains disease as a manifestation of the individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. “Psychological dependence causes an individual to feel they need a substance to feel good. ” 2 Negative thinking, low self-esteem, personality disorder such as perfectionism, etc. , could cause the addictive behavior. For example, an individual who does not cope well with stress may form a behavioral habit of exercise in order to feel good; they are addicted to exercise because of its mood-boosting biological effects. “In a philosophical sense, the biopsychosocial model states that the workings of the body can affect the mind, and the workings of the mind can affect the body.
However, biological and psychological factors alone are still not sufficient to completely explain exercise addiction in individuals. 2 The sociological component of the BPSM explains how social factors such as culture or socioeconomic status can be an underlying cause of illness. The behavior of an individual can be closely related to the culture and peer groups to which they belong. An individual may become addicted to exercise because of pressures of social norms.
For example, an individual may have developed an addiction to exercise as a result of peer pressures to be thin. Significance of Proposed Research The biopsychosocial model can be used to conceptualize exercise addiction. It is important to study the BPSM because further research is needed to determine the etiology and effective treatment for exercise addiction. To successfully treat or overcome an addiction, the individual must address each component that contributes to the overall behavior. The significance of this study will be to improve understanding of exercise addiction using the biopsychosocial model, determine the types of intervention needed to treat exercise addiction, and develop, as well as, test a multicomponent clinical strategy for treating the addiction.
Proposed Methods The study will involve the evaluation of the biopsychosocial model in relation to exercise addiction. The targeted population for this study includes the following: individuals who are physically active and individuals who are classified as addicted to exercise. In order to ensure an efficient sample will be chosen, the target population will consist of 100 individuals. The sampling technique that will be used is a survey type of research, the Exercise Addiction Inventory.
The EAI will include questions such as “When I exercise do I feel guilty” and “Is exercise the most important thing of my life? ” (8) From this research, a sample from the target population will be selected. The sample will include 10 males and 10 females who are classified as addictive exercisers, as well as 10 males and 10 females who are non-addictive exercisers. Individuals who are classified as addicted to exercise will be submitted and additional questionnaire that will identify whether the individual has evidence of physiological dependence or no physiological dependence.
Conclusion Exercise addiction is a disorder that has many underlying and contributing factors. Previous research did not provide sound information on the mechanisms of exercise dependence. The biopsychosocial model approach to addiction can be used to formulate an intervention for individuals who are diagnosed with exercise addiction. In order to treat an exercise addiction all components of the individual and the disease should be addressed.
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