Runners’ Stress Survey - First Results

...an overwhelming response!

Dear Fellow Runners,

Thank you to all of you who completed my Runners’ Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire, mentioned in the last Runners’ World electronic newsletter. A staggering 2110 people completed the questionnaire!

The specific aspect of health that the survey was designed to study was Symptoms of Stress. Research indicates that if people are more physically active, they are generally less stressed. There were 20 key questions in the survey, covering known emotional, physical, psychological and social symptoms of stress. When the scores for these questions were extracted from the data, a total Symptoms of Stress Score was calculated for each participant. A comparison was made between participants’ stress scores and the number of hours they spent running each week. This is known as a correlational study – the hypothesis being that as the number of hours spent running each week increases the individual’s stress score will reduce.

The sheer number of responses meant that I have been able to construct two genuinely representative samples of runners, balanced between men and women and spread over the age ranges from under 30 to over 60. The difference between the groups is that one group is made up of runners who have been running for more than two years, and the other is made up of runners who have been running for less than six months. This allows us to deduce whether the ability to cope with stress increases with regular physical exercise over a longer time period.

So far, I have calculated the correlation for the ‘over two years' experience’ group. The correlation came out as -0.342. A perfect correlation would be +1 or -1. We therefore cannot say that increased running will always lead to reduced stress, but we can say that there is a moderate correlation.

Past research on the correlation between potentially stressful events in a person’s life (such as divorce or bankruptcy) and stress-related illness have found much weaker correlations than this study. The Symptoms of Stress Score is a more accurate way of assessing an individual’s stress level. This research shows that taking up running can help reduce the symptoms of stress and that the more hours you spend running the less stressed you are likely to be.

I have yet to calculate the correlation for runners with less than six months experience. I will keep you posted and will make my full report available via the Runners’ World electronic newsletter when it is completed at the end of March.

Some participants emailed me to ask if I could supply them with an analysis of their individual responses to the questionnaire. This was not possible as the data collected was genuinely and completely anonymous. In the next issue of the electronic newsletter I will try to make the 20 key questions available to you with the score sheet so you can calculate your own Symptoms of Stress Score. I will also let you have average scores for runners of all age groups and levels of experience for you to compare.

Thank you again for your huge support for this research. I intend going on to study psychology at degree level and this initial research has already indicated some very fruitful areas for me to study in the future.

The overwhelming response means that this is one of the largest surveys ever into the link between physical exercise and stress.

Best Wishes,

Steve Mynard