Recreational running offers plenty of physical and mental health benefits—but some people can develop exercise dependence, a form of addiction to physical activity that can cause health problems. Shockingly, signs of exercise dependence are common even in recreational runners. Study published in Frontiers in Psychology Investigating whether the concept of escapism can help us understand the relationship between running, well-being, and exercise dependency.
Escape is an everyday phenomenon among humans, yet little is known about its motivational underpinnings, how it affects experiences, and psychological results said Dr Frode Stenseng of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, lead author of the research.
Running to explore or evade?
An escape is often defined as “an activity, a form of entertainment, etc. that helps you avoid or forget things that are unpleasant or boring.” In other words, many Daily activities “It might be interpreted as escapism,” said Stenseng. The psychological reward from escaping is reduced Self-awarenessless rumination, and relief from the most pressing or stressful thoughts and emotions.”
Escaping can restore perspective, or it can serve as a distraction from problems that need to be addressed. Escape that is adaptive, and seeks positive experiences, is referred to as self-expansion. Meanwhile, maladaptive escapism, avoidance of negative experiences is called self-suppression. Effectively, running as an exploration or for evasion.
“These two forms of escapism stem from two different mindsets, to promote positive moods, or to prevent negative moods,” Stensing said.
Streamlined activities used for self-expansion have more positive effects but also more long-term benefits. By contrast, self-suppression tends to suppress both positive and negative emotions and leads to avoidance.
Self-suppression associated with exercise dependence
The team recruited 227 Recreational runners, half men and half women, with widely varying running practices. They were asked to fill out questionnaires that looked at three different aspects of escapism and Playing sports Dependence: an escape measure measuring preference for self-expansion or self-suppression, an exercise dependence measure, and a satisfaction with life measure designed to measure participants’ subjective well-being.
The scientists found that there was very little overlap between runners who favored self-expansion and runners who favored self-repressive escape patterns. Self-expansion was positively associated with well-being, while self-suppression was negatively associated with well-being. Both self-suppression and self-expansion have been linked to the practice of dependency, but self-suppression was associated with more power. Neither escape mode was linked to age, gender, or the amount of time a person spent running, but both affected the relationship between well-being and exercise dependence. Whether or not a person met the criteria for dependence on exercise, a preference for self-expansion would still be associated with a more positive sense of their own well-being.
Although exercise dependence erodes potential well-being gains from exercise, it appears that perception of decreased well-being may be both a cause and a consequence of exercise dependence: dependence may be driven by decreased well-being as well as enhanced by it.
Similarly, the experience of positive self-expansion may be a psychological driver that reinforces exercise dependence.
“More studies using longitudinal research designs are necessary to reveal more motivational dynamics and outcomes in escapism,” said Stensing. “But these findings may enlighten people in understanding their own motivations, and may be used for therapeutic reasons for individuals who struggle through maladaptive involvement in their activity.”
Frode Stenseng et al, Running to ‘get lost’? Two types of escape in recreational running and their relationship to the practice of dependency and self-well-being. Frontiers in Psychology (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1035196
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