Monday, 11 July 2011

#8: I Me Mine

The Essentials of Academia

Having just submitted my ethics proposal for consideration by the University of Toronto ethics board, I must now wait approximately four weeks before receiving feedback which also means I will have a great deal of time on my hands. Time to write blog entries and work on my written communication skills (a continual work in progress)! I figured I would write this brief entry which essentially outlines my interests in academia and why I feel they are important. So without further adieu, please read the following snapshot of my research interests.

Great sport begins where good health ends. - Bertold Brecht

What do you do and why is it important?

As mentioned previously, I am a graduate student (MSc.) at the University of Toronto in the Department of Exercise Sciences, which is separated into 3 distinct yet related disciplines: biophysical (physiology, biochemistry, neurobiology, etc.), behavioural (psychology) and socio-cultural. Although my background (BMSc.) is in the area of physiology and cell biology, my interests have evolved and now are primarily behavioural/psychological where I am interested in questions pertaining to why (or why not) people choose to be physically active/exercise; the role of physical activity for mental health and well-being; and the interventions which may increase physical activity. More specifically, I am interested in exploring "unhealthy" exercise behaviours in highly committed yet recreational and amateur exercisers. What I mean by "unhealthy" is exercise which could be described as obsessive, excessive, compulsive, addictive, abusive and/or pathological. There are numerous terms to describe this phenomenon but all share the fundamental feature of causing negative consequences or outcomes to both the physically active individual as well as those close to him/her. My goal/purpose is thus to describe what are the fundamental characteristics/features of unhealthy exercise behaviour; where and when it develops, in whom it develops, how, and ultimately why it develops. Some fundamental questions to consider might include:

What is a healthy commitment to exercise?
How does commitment initially develop and how is it maintained over time?
Is exercise a fundamentally healthy behaviour or is it capable of abuse?
At what point does exercise become maladaptive: excessive, obsessive, compulsive, addictive, etc.?
Does exercise addiction exist, and if so, what does it look like?
When does healthy commitment end and unhealthy behaviour begin?
And many more...

This research is important because physical activity and exercise are increasingly promoted and recommended as essential for good overall health and fitness (and rightly so!), yet the dangers of extreme exercise behaviours are often ignored or downplayed. Such dangers include physical problems such as overuse injuries, chronic pain, illness, burnout and overtraining syndrome; psychological/emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, guilt, low self-esteem, poor body image and underlying mental illness (such as eating, body image, affective and personality disorders); as well as social, financial, academic and work/career problems. Clearly, for a small minority of regular exercisers, their behaviours may become problematic and cause significant distress and dysfunction to physical, psychological and social health and well-being.

Implications of this and related research will be to inform public health policy on safe and effective physical activity recommendations, coaching and training practices, high-performance sport development programs and others. It will also be essential to convince healthcare practitioners (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, personal trainers, fitness experts, sport psychologists, etc) to be aware and educated on the potential signs of unhealthy exercise behaviours so to detect and diagnose the problem and intervene when necessary. It will guide further research to explore the underlying mechanisms and reasons that elicit such unhealthy behaviour which will be essential for its treatment/management. Finally, it will be valuable to share this information with the exercising general public so that they and their loved ones may detect unhealthy exercise behaviours before they become a serious problem.

My research project/study will attempt to address these issues by probing highly committed individuals about their exercise behaviours and exploring both positive and negative aspects of exercise behaviour.

In future, I plan to post more information and research on unhealthy exercise behaviours but will leave it at this for now. If you have any questions, comments, thoughts or would like more info, please contact me at:


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