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Are you running for the right reasons?

Different kinds of escapism can motivate people to take part in running, but using running to escape from negative experiences rather than using it to escape to positive ones may lead to exercise dependence.

Many use running for physical and mental health benefits, but this can easily lead to exercise addiction where the benefits turn into health issues. Signs of exercise dependence are common even in recreational runners, and this is an area where we should be acutely aware of.

Escapism is often defined as an activity that helps you forget or avoid unpleasant or boring things. Escapism which is adaptive, seeking out positive experiences, is referred to as self-expansion. Maladaptive escapism, avoiding negative experiences, is called self-suppression. So, many use running to promote a positive mood, or conversely, prevent a negative mood.

A study of 227 recreational runners were asked to fill out questionnaires which investigated three different aspects of escapism and exercise dependence: preference for self-expansion or self-suppression, an exercise dependence scale, and their subjective wellbeing. Self-suppression had stronger links to exercise dependence than self-expansion, and self-expansion was linked to a positive sense of their own wellbeing. Both types of escapism affected their relationship between wellbeing and exercise dependence.

Although exercise dependence corrodes the potential wellbeing gains from exercise, it seems that perceiving lower wellbeing many be both a cause and an outcome of exercise dependence: the dependency might be driven by lower wellbeing as well as promoting it.

Stenseng.F. et al. (2023). Running to get 'lost'? Two types of escapism in recreational running and their relations to exercise dependence and subjective wellbeing. Front. Psychol. 13. 1035196.

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