Runner’s addiction can cause serious damage to people — and the economy

ADELAIDE, Australia — Most fitness fanatics know how much running regularly can benefit them, both mentally and physically. While running meet-up organizations have spread this message around the globe, a study warns there are some downsides to the phenomenon known as “runner’s addiction.”

According to the University of South Australia, both runners and society at large pay a price when running takes over their lives. Obsessive runners tend to ignore injuries and also damage their personal relationships too.

Adjunct professor Jan de Jonge surveyed 246 recreational runners between 19 and 77 years-old. The study analyzes how a runner’s mental recovery and passion for running affects their risk of hurting themselves because of their running routines.

Runner’s addiction can lead to physical, social problems

The results reveal more “obsessively passionate” runners — those whose commitment to running has controlled their life to the detriment of their relationships with romantic partners, friends, and relatives — suffer more running-related injuries. This differs from “harmoniously passionate” runners who take a more laid-back approach.

Researchers say the harmoniously passionate group integrates the sport into their lives along with other activities. Individuals in this group generally recover faster after a run and sustain fewer injuries. They are more likely to take early warning signs of injury seriously and take mental breaks from running when necessary.

Meanwhile, the obsessively passionate group appear to disregard the need to recover from training and often ignore injury warning signs. Study authors add these runners don’t mentally detach from the sport when it becomes harmful to them. While this approach tends to deliver them short-term gains such as faster running times, it also causes more running-related injuries.

The two warring mindsets appear to split along age and gender lines. Older runners are more able to mentally detach and recover faster after a run than runners between the ages of 20 and 34. Female runners 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,” de Jonge says in a university release. “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.”

The greater costs of injuries

De Jonge conducted his study in the Netherlands, where it’s estimated that running-related injuries cost the economy about about $16 million in medical costs, reduced productivity, and work absences. Running also causes the second-highest amount of injuries in the Netherlands, behind only soccer.

Studies show running causes the fourth-most injuries of all sports in Australia, behind Aussie Rules football, basketball, and netball. One report estimates that sporting injuries cost the Australian economy over $2 billion each year.

The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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