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Extreme Sports: What's the Appeal?

Experts explain why some people feel the need to push themselves to the edge in extreme sports.

The Motivation of Marathoners continued...

“It’s a sense of identity,” says Mayers. “The triathlon is not a sport that is crammed full of people. There are only a handful of people who have the ability to train for and accomplish this feat.”

While competing in a group of elite athletes may bring money, fame, and glory, most importantly to some, it also brings a healthy dose of respect.

“Skiing down from the top of a mountain where a helicopter drops you off alone, or jumping out of planes, I have a feeling those people have a sense of identity and that identity is important to them because they feel that earns them respect,” Mayers tells WebMD. “Caring for athletes as I do, my own personal opinion is that the most important desire they have is for respect.”

The Adrenaline Factor

When it comes to extreme sports, the adrenaline factor likely plays a role in explaining why athletes reach for the outer limits as well.

An “adrenaline rush” occurs when the adrenal gland is stimulated through an activity that causes stress on the body, and certainly extreme sports, such as backcountry snowboarding and bungee jumping, fall into the category of causing stress. According to the University of Maryland Endocrinology Health Guide, the stimulation of the adrenal gland releases a number of hormones, including epinephrine, or adrenaline. This increases the heart rate and the force of heart contractions, facilitates blood flow to the muscles and brain, causes relaxation of smooth muscles, and helps with the conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver. For extreme athletes, this adrenaline rush is a feeling that can’t come often enough.

“A lot of extreme athletes report that they are seeking that rush,” says Anderson. “They’re looking for those sensations they get from putting their life on the line.”

It’s a feeling that can’t be duplicated in any other activity, and for many, explains Anderson, it’s a true sense of feeling alive.

“The emotion that the adrenaline feeds in to is a heightened sense of being alive,” Anderson tells WebMD. “All your senses are in an acute level of awareness, and it’s that fight or flight response. They either do it and live -- or they die. That is what they are playing in to, and that is a very primitive thing that is going on.”

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