It is important for everyone to be physically active, and sports are a great way to stay fit. But what about those people who are attracted to extreme sports that can be so dangerous that they even risk their health and, sometimes, their life?
Extreme sports can include activities such as scaling very high mountains, like Mount Everest, white water rafting, base jumping, motocross and sand kiting. Of course, some of these activities are more dangerous than others. Mount Everest, for example, is littered with the bodies of climbers who didn’t make it—ghoulishly, some of their remains have become landmarks that other climbers use as they ascend or descend—while sand kiting can be done with various levels of risk. What they all share, however, is the possibility that the person engaging in the sport will be injured, possibly very seriously. In recognition of how dangerous these activities can be, many travel insurance companies simply refuse to cover them. Of course, we can in theory be injured doing practically anything, but the odds are so much higher when we do extreme sports that it begs the question of why people are attracted to these activities at all.
When we encounter danger, we experience a rush of adrenaline. This is the hormone that enables the famous fight or flight response. Faced with a perilous situation, we either respond with aggression or experience a burst of energy that makes it easier for us to flee. Adrenaline makes our heart beat faster so that oxygen is carried around the body more rapidly. Our pupils dilate and we become hyper-responsive to stimuli in the environment.
While the fight or flight response developed naturally to protect us when we face danger, we experience the same sensations when we willingly engage in extreme sports. However, because we know that this is a situation of our own choosing, the sensation of adrenaline can be very exciting, to the extent that the person can learn to crave it again and again. In this way, we can become effectively addicted to adrenaline (known as being an ‘adrenaline junkie’ in the vernacular) and can find ourselves seeking out ever more dangerous sports in pursuit of the perfect natural high.
So, is there something wrong with engaging in extreme sports? Not necessarily. However, it is important to engage with a process of checks and balances. If you accept that you might suffer a serious injury, do you have a system in place for your care? Do you have children who are dependent on you and need you to stay well? Do you really love the sport or could it be a dangerous addiction, not that unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol? These are all issues that should be considered.
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