The relationship between stress and disease, in particular cardiovascular disease, has long been recognized, whereas the study of the physiological mechanisms that explain this link has only more recently received attention. The acute response to stress is generally thought to be a critically important adaptation designed to activate the system in preparation to cope with the stressor. However, prolonged stimulation of the system (acute and chronic) can lead to deleterious adaptations including the release of inflammatory cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling) that play a critical role in the development of atherosclerosis. Scientists have therefore used a breadth of protocols and methods to identify the complexity of our fight-or-flight response and demonstrate the synergy between perception, the stress response, physical activity, and health. In addition, the critical assessment of cellular health, the gut microbiome, and genetic polymorphisms have further advanced our understanding of additional therapeutic targets against CVD.
Edmund O. Acevedo and Aaron L. Slusher
Daniel B. Hollander and Edmund O. Acevedo
The unique experience of swimming the English Channel is a test of mind and body to overcome multiple challenges. The purpose of this study was to examine psychological characteristics and reflective meanings of these swimmers. Eight English Channel swimmers were interviewed. Inductive and deductive analyses compared interviews and interpretations with the coinvestigator and swimmers. Themes included the cognitive orientations of mental toughness, while cognitive strategies included goal setting, Compartmentalization of time, and/or swimming distance, and self-regulation. Descriptions of the experience of the swim included an ease of swimming at the beginning, more aversive experiences in the middle, and a paradoxical euphoria and letdown upon completion of the swim. Several swimmers noted the perception of increased occupational effectiveness, self-confidence, and an awareness of unlimited potential. Whereas, other swimmers noted a more competitive post event focus. Reflective experiences supported Maslow’s notion that the meaning associated with a peak experience augments daily life.
Edmund O. Acevedo, David A. Dzewaltowski, Diane L. Gill, and John M. Noble
The purpose of this study was to examine the sport-specific cognitions of 112 ultramarathoners competing in a 100-mile trail run. Subjects completed the Sport Orientation Questionnaire, the Trait Sport-Confidence Inventory, the Commitment to Running Scale, and a questionnaire designed by the investigators to assess goals, cognitive strategies, perceptions of “runner’s high,” and feelings that occur when subjects are unable to run. Ultramarathoners were more confident, more committed to running, slightly higher in competitiveness, lower on win orientation, and higher on goal orientation in comparison to other athletes. Ultramarathoners also rated importance of and commitment to time goals very high; importance of and commitment to place goals were rated low. No significant differences in cognitive orientations were found between finishers and nonfinishers or between males and females. Responses to open-ended questions revealed that most ultramarathoners reported predominately external thoughts during races, had feelings of psychological well-being and strength as a result of ultramarathoning, never or rarely experienced runner’s high, and experienced negative psychological states when unable to run. Overall, these results demonstrate the unique sport-specific cognitive orientations of ultramarathoners.