Physical Activity and Exercise Addiction During the Covid-19 Pandemic in Italy

Franca Ceci, Francesco Di Carlo, Julius Burkauskas, Anatolia Salone, Ilaria De Luca, Dorotea Cicconcelli, Valentina Giorgetti, Irene La Fratta, Antonino Todaro, Pierluigi Simonato, Giovanni Martinotti, Massimo di Giannantonio, Ornella Corazza

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Severe restrictive measures were implemented globally to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic leading to significant lifestyle changes and impacting on both the physical and the mental health of citizens. Caught by the fear of getting sick, some individuals have adopted behaviors which favored the development of exercise addiction (EA). Our aim was to evaluate physical activity habits and the risk of EA in the general Italian population during phase 1 of the lockdown. The role of appearance anxiety (AA), self-compassion, and use of performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) as predictors of EA development were investigated. A comparison between physically active subjects with the inactive ones was also included. Between April and May 2020, an online survey was conducted across Italy. Nine hundred thirty-six answers were collected. The rate of EA in the physically active sample (782 subjects) was 4.1%. The physically active group showed higher SCS scores and a greater use of PIEDs. Of the physically active participants, 84.2% reported variations in their fitness routine. Perceived benefit of exercising resulted significantly higher in those with EA. Subjects with EA reported stronger motivation in engaging in physical activity as for “physical wellness,” “psychological well-being,” and “sexual attractiveness and confidence in relationship.” A higher level of AA, a lower level of self-compassion, and a higher perceived benefit of exercising during lockdown were all significant predictors for the presence of EA. Our findings suggest that the fear of getting sick from Covid-19, combined with radical changes in the lifestyles induced by the lockdown and individual personological characteristics, can favor the development of EA and related phenomena in the general population.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health and Addiction
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2022


  • Appearance anxiety
  • Covid-19
  • Exercise addiction
  • Performance and image enhancing drugs
  • Self-compassion


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