The psychological, health and social benefits of running are well-known, but when the sport becomes an addiction, it can cause more harm than good, according to a new study by University of South Australia Adjunct Professor Jan de Jonge and his team.
The findings show that people with a running addiction reported far more running-related injuries than those who were more moderate in their approach to running. The moderate group also reported faster mental recovery after a run.
For the study, the research team surveyed 246 recreational runners in the Netherlands, ages 19 to 77, to investigate how a person’s mental outlook (mental recovery and passion for running) affects their risk of running-related injuries. In total, 54 percent of the participants were male and 46 percent female with a mean age of 47 years.
The average running experience was 14 years. On average, participants engaged in running activities three times a week, and the average running distance was about 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) per week. Two-thirds of the runners ran in groups, and approximately half of the runners used an individualized training schedule for their training activities.
Of all participants, 51.2 percent reported running-related injuries over the past 12 months, such as knee, Achilles tendon and foot injuries.
Not surprisingly, the research team found that the more “obsessively passionate” runners — where the sport took control of their lives to the detriment of partners, friends and relatives — reported far more running-related injuries than those who were more “harmoniously passionate” and less obsessive in their approach to running.
Participants in the “harmoniously passionate” group — those who are in full control of their running and integrate the sport into their lives and other activities — reported faster mental recovery after a run and fewer running-related injuries. They were more likely to heed the early warning signs of injuries and take both physical and mental breaks from running whenever necessary.
Obsessively passionate runners, however, disregarded the need to recover after training and failed to mentally detach from the sport, even when running became harmful. Their approach to running delivered short-term gains, such as faster times, but ultimately led to more running-related injuries.
The researchers also found that age and gender plays a role. The older runners were able to mentally detach and recover a lot faster after a run than those in the 20 to 34 age group, especially females, who were more prone to running-related injuries.
“Most running-related injuries are sustained as a result of overtraining and overuse or failing to adequately recover, merely due to an obsessive passion for running,” said de Jonge, based in the Netherlands at Eindhoven University of Technology and Utrecht University.
“The majority of research focuses on the physical aspects of overtraining and lack of recovery time, but the mental aspects of running-related injuries have been ignored to date.”
“When running becomes obsessive, it leads to problems. It controls the person’s life at the expense of other people and activities and leads to more running-related injuries. This behavior has also been reported in other sports, including professional dancing and cycling.”
In the Netherlands, where the study was conducted, running-related injuries costs the economy approximately €10 million a year ($11 million) in medical costs, work absences and reduced productivity. Next to soccer, running is the Dutch sport with the highest number of injuries.
The paper is published open access in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Professor Toon W. Taris from Utrecht University and Dr. Yannick A. Balk from the University of Amsterdam also took part in the study.
Source: University of South Australia