By Teresa Corbett
On November 1st, a group of postgrad students from the School of Psychology took on one of their toughest challenges yet. Turf warrior is described as “Ireland’s most innovative and exciting obstacle race” and basically involves adventure, mud, bog, trees rocks, bog, climbing, more bog, swinging,, more mud, mud again and leaps into the Atlantic (yes in November!) and bog. For 10 kilometres, the group trudged through the wilderness of Connemara…and returned home battered and bruised and cold. WHY?! WHY WOULD WE BOTHER? Well, as a Health Psychologist I’m going to try explain the method to our madness… and maybe even convince some of you to join us on our next adventure!
- Physical Fitness
Ok, so I’ll start with the obvious here. According to the WHO, regular and adequate levels of physical activity:
- improve muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness;
- improve bone and functional health;
- reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer and depression;
- reduce the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures; and
- are fundamental to energy balance and weight control.
And we definitely got moving during Turf warrior: pulling, pushing, lifting, bending, running, jumping our way through the dense and muddy bog. It was certainly a fun way of incorporating all the necessary combinations of core-strengthening exercises, strength training, stretching, and high-intensity activities into our weekend routine!
“We’re only as fast as our slowest” was our motto for our day. It might sound like a strange one but in a group of mixed abilities, capacities and speeds we wanted to stick together. We were a team… and more importantly, we are friends. A meta-analysis conducted by Holt-Lunstad et al (2010) found that people who enjoyed strong social ties had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival over a measured period of 7.5 years compared with people with weak or no social ties. Further, Richmond et al (2011) found that having a close network of family and friends was a highly significant factor in their lifespan.
- Functional Support (Helping others)
One of the largest benefits of social relationships comes from being involved with and helping others. And we stood on shoulders (thanks Ronan!), dragged people through mud trenches, hoisted people up (thanks Brian and Mark!) and even offered a t-shirt to wipe the mud from each other’s’ eyes. Research has indicated that volunteering can boost satisfaction in relationships, as well as increasing levels of oxytocin and progesterone production, both associated with regulating stress and lowering levels of inflammation in the body. Considering an evolutionary perspective, humans could be hard-wired to help each other for their own sake, because such “pro-social” behaviour benefits all members of a group.
- Overcoming adversity
Lamond et al. (2010) define resilience as the ability to adapt positively to adversity and resilience has been found to significantly contribute to longevity at all ages. In our challenge we were faced with obstacles and had to overcome fears of heights (jumping into an ice-cold fjord!), fears of small-spaces (creeping through the rat tunnels) and getting up each time we fell into the bog, knowing we would fall again.
- Achieving a goal
The majority of our group are PhD students and as such, we are quite a competitive bunch by nature. Research has indicated that goal striving is vital to the well-being and good life (Frisch, 1998). Lazarus (1991) highlights the sense of happiness we feel when we think we are making progress towards the realisation of our goals. But then again… we always knew we would achieve this goal. Nothing was going to stop us. Luckily, optimistic belief that we can achieve our goals contributes to well-being (Carver & Scheier, 2001), while progression in goal attainment enhances our chances for long-term well-being (Brunstein, 1993). And nothing tastes better than soup after achieving a goal!
- Being outdoors and enjoying nature
Turf warrior took place in the heart of Connemara, one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world. Bird (2007) highlights some of the benefits of nature:
- Contact with nature can help prevent, alleviate and assist recovery from mental health problems.
- Blood pressure and muscle tension reduces when viewing scenes of nature. Nature also reduces stress, anxiety and increases positive feelings.
- Physical activities taken in natural environments have proven benefits to mental health, depression and self-esteem.
All warriors were invited to a Halloween-themed party at Killary Adventure Company after the race, so we could get together to swap stories and re-live the ups and downs of a day on the battlefield. If you thought we were amazing warriors… check out our creative costumes! Stuckey and Nobel (2010) concluded that artistic engagement has significantly positive effects on health. This may be by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones, reducing stress and anxiety as well as increasing flow and spontaneity and personal expression. I think we did pretty well!
We all laughed when Charlotte fell in the mud. We laughed when Brian ran into the bush. We laughed when Tom got lost. We laughed when we told stories the next day. And we laughed on Monday when we remembered them again. Laughter is good medicine.Using laughter and humour to cope with stressful situations (such as falling into a muddy bog!) has been found to be associated with greater daily positive mood and may produce improvements in immune system functioning (Mahoney, Burroughs, & Lippman, 2002).
- It was FUN!
We got out of the office, we took all our work stress out on the bog, we hugged and helped each other… and it was a brilliant experience. Chida and Steptoe (2008) concluded that positive psychological states may influence inflammatory and coagulation factors, which are involved in cardiovascular disease. The lower levels of cortisol associated with positive states may reduce the risk of metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune diseases. Bring on next year! Dedicated to all my fellow warriors! Thank you! Some references… Bird, W (2007) Natural Thinking – Investigating the links between Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Mental Health, http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/naturalthinking_tcm9-161856.pdf Brunstein, J.C. (1993). Personal goals and subjective well-being: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65 (5), 1061 – 1070. Carver, C.S., & Scheier, M.F. (2001). Optimism, pesimism, and self-regulation. In: E.C. Chang (Ed.), Optimism and Pesimism: Implications for Theory, Research, and Practice. American Psychological Association, Washington, str. 31-51. Chida Y, Steptoe A. (2008) Positive psychological well-being and mortality: a quantitative review of prospective observational studies. Psychosom Med.;70(7):741-56. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31818105ba. Epub 2008 Aug 25. Diener, E. and Chan, M. Y. (2011), Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 3: 1–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x Frisch, M.B. (1998). Quality of life therapy and assessment in health care. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 5, 19–40. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316 Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). “Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults.” Health Psychology, 31, 87–96. Lamond AJ, Depp CA, Allison M, Langer R, Reichstadt J, Moore DJ, Golshan S, Ganiats TG, Jeste DV J, Measurement and predictors of resilience among community-dwelling older women (2008). Psychiatr Res. Dec; 43(2):148-54. Lazarus, R.S. (1991). Emotion and Adaptation, Oxford University Press, New York. Mahony, D.L, Burroughs, W. J., & Lippman, L. G. (2002). Perceived attributes of health-promoting laughter: A cross-generational comparison. Journal of Psychology, 136, 171–181. Richmond RL1, Law J, Kay-Lambkin F. (2011) Physical, mental, and cognitive function in a convenience sample of centenarians in Australia. J Am Geriatr Soc.;59(6):1080-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03404.x. Epub 2011 May 3. Stuckey, H.L. and Nobel, J. (2010) The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health. 100(2): 254–263. Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L. and Feldman Barrett, L. (2004), Psychological Resilience and Positive Emotional Granularity: Examining the Benefits of Positive Emotions on Coping and Health. Journal of Personality, 72: 1161–1190. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00294.x WHO Factsheet on Physical activity http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs385/en/ Zeng, Yi and Shen, Ke (2010) Resilience Significantly Contributes to Exceptional Longevity, Curr Gerontol Geriatr Res. doi: 10.1155/2010/525693