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The Dark Side of Exercise

Monday 03 April 2017

Fame. Glory. Money.

These are just some of the reasons why professional athletes might be tempted to risk it all and take performance-enhancing drugs.

The sporting world is overwhelmed with culprits. Perhaps the most famous case of all being that of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong who was stripped of his titles and banned from professional cycling for life after admitting to his use of performance enhancing drugs. Last year, it was revealed that more that 1000 Russian athletes were involved in a state-sponsored doping scandal. And, more recently, Usain Bolt was stripped of one of his nine Olympic gold medals after his relay teammate incurred an anti-doping rule violation.

Recent research has shown that doping is not only a problem exclusive to professionals who have set their sights on gold, but is also widespread amongst gym goers and amateur athletes.

Research has revealed that at least 1 in 10 young adult recreational exercisers have used anabolic steroids at least once in their lifetime. Even more shockingly, children as young as 12 years of age self-report use of performance enhancement substances.

Dr Lambros Lazuras, senior lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "Doping in sports has received global attention in recent years due to some very high-profile cases - but sports doping has now extended to a much wider audience, recreational sports, and unless timely preventive action is taken it will become a major societal and public health challenge.

“There are two types of risks: health risks like heart disease, kidney failure or liver disease, and there are also issues and implications for mental health.”

In response, SAFE YOU+: Strengthening the anti-doping fight in fitness and exercise in youth - a European-wide project which is led in the UK by Dr. Lazuras and Kingston University - is targeting young exercisers and amateur athletes (16-25 years old) with an educational tool to help them resist doping use.

The SAFE YOU tool, which launched in January 2017, is an online educational resource that can be freely accessed through the project's website ( It provides expert advice about how to address doping use in recreational sports.

By using the tool, exercisers across Europe can improve their knowledge about the myths and realities of doping use and learn how to make informed decisions about this issue. It also features case studies and training plans to help fitness instructors and coaches deliver workshops on the themes of substance use.

Dr Lazuras said: “There is evidence that young people involved in the use of doping substances, in both elite and amateur sports, use internet sources and social media to access information about performance enhancement substance use, rather than asking a health professional or sport nutritionist.

“In SAFE YOU+ we will be utilizing crowdsourcing methodology to analyse how social media can be used as an effective means to prevent (rather than to promote) doping in amateur sports.”

To find out more about the SAFE YOU+ project visit -

“Sheffield Hallam University is not responsible for the content of external websites.”

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