Friday, May 28, 2010

Are Multi-Sport Athletes Happier People?

Are you myopic in your outdoor or training pursuits? Should you be? Lately, I've been considering the balanced life, and trying to make an effort to pursue it - beyond just considering it. Why? Well, I'm thinking perhaps there is more to it than just a balance. I'm thinking happiness... Here was my thought process yesterday in consideration of balance... 
Yesterday, as I closed up the office around 6:00 my mind started to shift to "what will I shred today". A classic period of the Walker-day in which the mind tries to calculate a mountain bike trail to ride that encompasses it's desires (jumps? cross country? downhill?)... Ahh, a tough one, I thought to myself. Now, recognize that this would've been the third time I'd been on my bike in one day (and this is very typical). I was struggling... What should I ride, oh geez, oh geez, what should I ride! This was getting tough. Then I thought about my other "love" of summer: bouldering. Why not take the dog our for a long hike and hit the boulders at Sailing Hawks. EUREKA!
You're thinking, why, this guy has a hard life! The goal isn't to have a hard life, but a charmed life, actually! That said, is there a connection between the balanced life and happiness? Is there any science here? Turns out there is a connection between novelty and the brain and it starts with drugs...

According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study...
People who are constantly looking for the thrill of new experiences and the cocaine user in search of a "high" may have something in common, according to NIDA-funded researchers. In a series of studies with rats, the researchers have shown that the search for novel experiences activates the brain's reward system in the same way that drugs of abuse do.
The fact that novelty seekers may be tapping into the same primal reward mechanisms as drug abusers do provides a biological interpreta-tion for the fact that individuals who constantly seek new and exciting experiences are much more likely to abuse drugs than are individuals who have less need for novel stimulation, says Dr. Michael Bardo of the University of Kentucky. The finding suggests new ways to reach such individuals with drug abuse prevention interventions, says Dr. Bardo, who was the lead researcher in a number of the studies.
And we know people high on cocaine are, well, sometimes, happy people! But I found more on the topic that proves novelty makes the brain happier/smarter/better. In a study conducted by the University College London and Otto von Guericke University reported in the August 3, 2006, issue of Neuron, published by Cell Press, further evidence was collected to prove a "novel brain is actually wired for novelty..."
The researchers found that the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA) does, indeed, respond to novelty, and these response scales according to how novel the image was. They concluded that their data provide evidence for "a functional hippocampal-SN/VTA loop" that is driven by novelty rather than other forms of stimulus salience such as emotional content or the need to respond to an image. The researchers said their finding that the SN/VTA is more activated by greater novelty is compatible with models of brain function "that see novelty as a motivating bonus to explore an environment in the search for reward rather than being a reward itself."
So, to the seekers of variety, but more important, NOVELTY, keep it up! It may not be that you're happier, but your brain desires new and exciting activities. Thus, could there be evidence to suggest that brains on a novelty-fix are happier? You should be the judge, but when I've run into people doing the same activities day in/day out, I haven't noticed an increase in happiness. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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