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New Study from Albright College Psychology Professor Finds Link between Intentional Self-Injury and Lack of Exercise


Sept. 21, 2016


Reading, Pa. – The detrimental effects of lack of exercise on one’s physical health, mood, energy levels and waistline are well documented.

But new research from an Albright College psychology professor has found that idleness may also be linked to high rates of intentional self-injury.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology and co-authored by Albright assistant professor of psychology Bridget Hearon, Ph.D., found that adults with psychiatric disorders who reported high rates of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in the previous month also reported significantly less moderate or vigorous exercise than patients who did not self-injure.

The study is the first to look at the correlation between exercise and NSSI among a large sample of people.

NSSI is a common behavior among adults with psychiatric disorders, including those with borderline personality, mood and anxiety disorders, but can also occur in the absence of such a diagnosis. The more common forms of NSSI are cutting, biting, burning, severe scratching, picking and hitting oneself.

“The severity of NSSI can vary, but it’s used to alleviate emotional pain in the moment,” said Hearon.

The study, conducted at the Massachusetts-based McLean Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School, included 353 people with acute psychiatric issues in a partial, non-residential hospitalization program. The researchers administered questionnaires to participants asking them to retrospectively report on their history of NSSI and physical activity.

Hearon and her colleagues found that patients who reported high rates of NSSI in the past month also indicated a lack of moderate to high level of physical activity in the past week.

“The group that could most benefit from exercise showed significantly less, or in many cases, no moderate or vigorous exercise. It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Hearon, an expert on exercise and eating behaviors.

Researchers believe that the endorphins released while exercising could lead to a decreased urge or need to hurt oneself.

With the research indicating an exercise deficit among NSSI patients, a logical next step would be to measure what positive impact exercise could have as intervention for NSSI. Hearon and her colleagues are hoping to conduct such a study in the future.

While NSSI is a symptom associated with various disorders, there have been no empirically supported treatments for specifically addressing it. “What we’re trying to get at is something practical or a specific treatment technique that may be useful to patients who self-injure regardless of their specific diagnosis,” said Hearon.

To access the article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jclp.22342/full.


Founded in 1856, Albright College is a selective, national liberal arts college enrolling 1,800 full-time undergraduates and more than 800 adult learners and graduate students. The College’s flexible interdisciplinary curriculum, strengthened by a close-knit residential learning environment, encourages students to combine majors and disciplines to create individualized academic programs. Close faculty mentorship, numerous experiential learning options, and a diverse, supportive community of scholars and learners help students exceed their own expectations and graduate with a commitment to a lifetime of service and learning. Albright College is located in Reading, Pennsylvania.