Running: a Fringe Benefit of a Bad Economy?

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Running: the best psychotherapy



Running: the best psychotherapy

Times are tough. We seem to be stuck with an unemployment rate of 8+ percent, with layoffs that never seem to end, with foreclosures of homes and heart-rending stories of families living in cars. Nothing exemplifies better the disappearance of the middle class than the soaring of company stocks like Wall Mart and Dollar Tree on the one hand, and Nordstrom and Whole Foods on the other.

But cheer up. Ours is not so bad. Just take a look at Greece and Spain, countries with overall unemployment rates of over 20%, and among young people – of over 40%! Now, this I call tough times, a true Depression.

The psychological consequences of unemployment are devastating; loss of self-worth, hopelessness, breakdown of families, clinical depression.

But out of this bleak picture comes a piece of news that gives one faith in human resilience. Young people in Europe don’t succumb to fatalism and listlessness. A Reuters dispatch from Europe (8/12/2005) proclaims:Fun Runners Hit the Road in Crisis-Struck Europe.

‘As budgets tighten and working lives get more stressful, running is experiencing a boom as people hit the parks and streets of their cities to escape from it all and keep themselves healthy for just the cost of a pair of sneakers. There is absolutely a running boom and it’s global,” Mike McManus, Adidas market director for running, told Reuters”.

The boom is especially noticeable among people in their mid-20s who are new to the sport and who see running as a way to escape the stresses and strains of working life, or even as a way to get to the office, say people in the sports industry. Research done by the consulting company Sports + Market  shows that in Spain and Italy, two of the countries worst hit by the euro zone debt crisis, the percentage of the population who actively participate in running, hiking and walking has soared.

In Spain, the proportion of adults doing those activities has jumped to 20.7 percent from 12.5 percent in 2006, while in Italy it has gone to 21.3 percent from just 5.4 percent over the same period. What happened to the cafe-lounging Italians?

This is partly due to the “Wall Mart effect”: “Consumers do have to make choices in terms of cutting back and running has been one of those categories that seems to be on the upside regardless of the economic climate,” said McManus, the marketing director for Adidas. The health club sector, meanwhile, is suffering in the economic downturn as consumers cut discretionary spending.

But I suspect that a large part of the reason for the new-found enthusiasm for running is psychological. It has been shown that  about 50% of people have a dopamine receptor that is an extra-strong reactor to this neurotransmitter. Dopamine is the prime chemical mediator of the reward system in the brain. Running and walking simply make us feel better about ourselves. What better way, then, to escape the stresses and depression of hard economic times?

We Americans, with our 8% unemployment, don’t feel as stressed. How else to explain the fact that the proportion of the population that participated in runing, hiking and walking was 4% in 2006, and in 2012 it is still…4%. At least we are consistent.

Since antiquity, sports was enshrined in religion. To wit: the classical-Greek Olympics were actually part of religious ceremonies. Juvenal, the delightful Roman poet coined the slogan of “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano”, which means “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body”. If you are having trouble remembering your Latin, just remember ASICS, which is the acronym for Juvenal’s immortal phrase.

Juvenal and Poesia, the muse of Poetry


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