No one says a Spartan race is easy. But easy’s not the point. If it was, then the incredible benefits of crushing a Spartan course would not be so apparent. As it is, most people who undergo their race rite of passage claim to experience all sorts of feel-goods, and chief among them is a noticeable reduction in stress.
Science tells us there are good reasons for that. Curious?
Well, here are five science-backed reasons to prescribe yourself a Spartan race the next time you’re feeling worked up.
1. Aerobic Meditation
Whether it’s money, relationships, health, or work issues, most of us feel crunched at some stage or other. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, seven out of 10 adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily.
A suggested fix? Regular aerobic exercise such as is incorporated in the running, walking, carrying, climbing, burpee-enforcing itinerary of a Spartan circuit.
Not only will this kick-ass cardio reduce levels of stress hormones, but the repetitive motions involved in a strong aerobic workout are proven to act like meditation to steer your focus from your thoughts to your body. And just as in meditation, aerobic exercise increases production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, endorphins, so that you can park your worries for a moment and feel happy and hopeful instead.
2. Fit in Body Equals Fit in Mind
Of course, a Spartan race is not just an aerobic workout. It also incorporates strength training. That means the more races you participate in, the fitter you’ll get.
The double-winning whammy here is that research shows folk who are fit feel more capable and confident about their daily tasks. The journal, BMC Public Health reported that men of average weight who worked out and had reasonable levels of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness also had lower stress and higher mental resources.
3. Green Exercising
A sure way to restore mental well-being is to take yourself to the great outdoors. In a Spartan race, you’re already there. Whether staring over the mountains of Lake Tahoe, tackling obstacles under the mystical glow of the northern lights in Iceland, or running up the bleachers of the New York Mets stadium, the Spartan race surroundings are always breath-catchingly beautiful. (OK, technically, the Mets stadium isn’t “the great outdoors,” but I defy you to not be inspired racing there!)
It’s this experience of “green exercising” that major studies say helps boost mood and reduce stress and anxiety disorders. In one systemic review from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, exercising outdoors and in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy, and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression.
4. Being Part of the Crowd
Spartan races are known for their camaraderie. According to a study carried out through Cal Poly State University on motivators for competing in obstacle course races, this sense of community is one of the top reasons people sign up for a race.
Link that to other studies that highlight social interaction as an effective stress buster, and it’s another argument for getting your Spartan race bib on. In fact, researchers at the American Osteopathic Association found that exercising as part of a group lowers stress by 26 percent and significantly improves quality of life.
5. Stepping Out of the Zone
Most people doing their first Spartan race are way out of their comfort zone — and that’s a good thing. Moving beyond what feels comfortable to you can help to create what Daniel Pink, author of the best-selling Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us calls “productive discomfort.”
Pink writes: “If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive.”
Related: Comfort is the Enemy
The balance is being able to step up to a challenge that pushes your stress buttons, but which you also know offers you a chance to grow and transform. Accepting your stress and moving through it is the very thing, Pink claims, that will push you toward the ability and resources you didn’t realize were deep inside of you.
And yes, that is the reason Spartans always say: “You’ll know at the finish line.”