This Is Your Brain on Spartan Racing

This Is Your Brain on Spartan Racing

Nearly 42% of American adults are currently obese. In 2018, over half of people in the U.S. had been diagnosed with at least one chronic condition — including heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension — and nearly 30% had two or more of these conditions. The global average screen time per day is now just shy of 7 hours, with the average child's screen time increasing by 52% as a result of the pandemic. Young adults aged 18 to 24 also have the highest rate of serious mental illness.

And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that only 28% of us exercise enough daily, Americans are consistently reporting having fewer close friendships and feeling more lonely. (One study even directly tied having poor health to feelings of loneliness.)

So, how do we reverse this epidemic of unhealthiness, disconnection, and general amotivation toward life? 

Related: The 2024 Spartan Race Schedule: Dates, Details, Venues, and More

a spartan racer in pain while carrying a bucket during a race

Henry David Thoreau once said, "I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

If you want to prevent disease while also living the life you want, you have to set big goals, do something every single day that gets you one step closer to that goal, and — soon enough — it will become part of your identity. It's a lot harder to quit something that feels like it's part of who you are.

Related: This Is How to Overcome Your Comfort Crisis

For example, if you're suffering from a chronic health condition, that takes up a lot of your physical and mental energy every day. It's become part of your identity. But imagine the identity you could embody — the things you could accomplish — when the thing that's holding you back suddenly lets go of the ropes. 

At Spartan, we have the antidote to chronic disease, to lack of motivation, to technology addiction, to poor health, and to loneliness. All you have to do is commit to a goal that seems unreachable, and we take these three steps to get you there. 

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
— Henry David Thoreau

How Does Spartan Racing Help With Depression?

The Science of Doing Hard Things

Because of our ancient ancestors' hunting and gathering lifestyle, humans are wired to find the path of least resistance — to conserve energy and to avoid pain and suffering. And, with modern-day technology allowing you to order fast food directly to your door and a society that makes comfort and convenience a priority, why would anyone want to step outside of their comfort zone and create unnecessary inconvenience?

Conserving all of your energy to hunt down your next meal is now impractical, to say the very least. With little to no energy exerted on hunting and defending your family from wild animals, that leaves a whole lot of stamina on the table for the rest of your day. 

In any given Spartan, Trail, or Tough Mudder race, HIGHLANDER adventure, DEKA event — you name it — we create the most brutal, unforgiving conditions that a modern brain can fathom: extreme cold and heat, unpredictable weather and elements, no food, punishing terrain, and physically demanding work that lasts for hours or even days. It's not just because we want to see you agonize. There's science behind all of the suffering.

Not only does strenuous exercise release endorphins — peptides produced in the brain that block pain and stress receptors and increase feelings of wellbeing — but making hard, demanding training a part of your lifestyle shortens the distance between your health span and your life span. In short, this means that you won't just be going through the motions in the later years of your life; you'll be healthy during them, and able to do the things you love to do (such as running marathons into your 80s and 90s or playing catch with your grandkids).

Related: Can Exercise Change Your Brain's Chemistry Like Antidepressants?

A new British Journal of Sports Medicine study found that just 12 weeks of exercise — especially high-intensity, strenuous training — is just as effective at reducing feelings of anxiety and depression as antidepressants themselves (though subjects who were already on medication to address such things were instructed to not replace their prescription with exercise, but rather to administer both in tandem).

Interestingly, while 70% of primary care physicians will discuss exercise with their patients, less than one-fifth of doctors are willing to prescribe physical activity as a legitimate treatment, according to a Canadian study.

“It’s very rare that doctors say, ‘I need you to exercise three times a week, for at least 30 minutes, at a brisk walking pace,’” British Journal of Sports Medicine study author, Dr. Ben Singh, told the Wall Street Journal. “Exercise is considered ‘complementary’ like acupuncture. There’s no evidence that acupuncture has any effect, yet there’s lots of evidence for exercise." 

Exercising Outdoors

We put on events in some of the world's most beautiful, untouched, quiet, and remote corners. And while working up a sweat and releasing endorphins with a jaw-dropping background is certainly stimulating, it's also scientifically proven to protect you from disease, relax your body and mind, and even help you recover faster. 

The Japanese practice of forest bathing (known as "Shinrin-yoku") involves mindfully spending time in a diverse ecosystem or forested woodland under a canopy of trees. This contemplative time — such as spending hours running on a trail in the woods — allows you to inhale oxygen-rich air and focus on each of your senses.

a spartan racer in the woods during a race

Trees expel chemicals known as phytoncides that help them to fight off diseases. But when inhaled or absorbed by the skin, these chemicals are highly beneficial for our health and wellbeing too.  They assist in boosting our immune system and natural killer (NK) cell count. They also support the nervous and endocrine systems and have a positive effect on the Limbic system of the brain, which helps to control our emotions and senses. 

MORE: Why Getting Out Into the Great Outdoors Will Make You More Resilient

Plus, studies have proven that — much like adults — children as young as 3 years old prefer the visual fractal patterns that are typically found only in nature, not in urban areas. The repeating patterns of similar geometric shapes you might see in something like a tree or a mountain are responsible for reducing stress and mental fatigue in humans by up to 60%

When your body is taking a beating over an hours-long endurance event, some stress relief is certainly warranted. 

Building Connections With Other People

Since the pandemic, people interact with other people far less — and certainly less in person than they do remotely or online. With millions of dedicated, disciplined athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all disciplines (including those who are just beginning their fitness journey), we have one of the most tight-knit, welcoming racing communities on the planet.

two spartan racers with their arms around one another during a race

Social facilitation is a concept that suggests that individuals are more likely to complete a task or perform better in the presence of others. Imagine you commit to running an Ultra by the end of the year. Are you more likely to get serious about your nutrition, train harder, and crush the race if you commit silently in your head, or if you tell the entire town? You can apply this principle to any area of your life.

Related: How to Find Your Spartan Tribe Online Before You Get to the Start Line

Spartan CEO Joe De Sena loves Jim Rohn's well-known quote, You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” When you become a member of the Spartan community, you're surrounding yourself with people who are not only the most dedicated and motivated people, but who will also stop at nothing to make sure that you hold yourself to that same standard.

Upcoming Spartan Race Schedule