Mark Matthews, fighting fear with barrels.

The Inertia

In The Fear Project, I profile a handful of the most of the most accomplished action adventure athletes alive: skydivers, cave-divers, big-wave surfers, skiers, and a UFC fighters. I wanted to know the science behind what made these people tick, but I couldn’t help getting enthralled in their personal stories. One theme that emerged over and again is that the risks these athletes take help them find confidence and stability in their personal lives, especially when times get rough — and most of them have seen some rough times, no doubt part of why they’re pushing the limits to gut twisting levels.

Science is now putting some research into how and why this is such a common theme. Men’s Health Magazine reported a story recently citing a Texas A&M study that found that adventure sports are more adrenaline and cortisol inducing than public speaking, usually thought of as the king of stressors. It’s likely because athletes are having fun with these high levels of adrenaline that participating in such sports, researchers say, help them deal with stress in everyday life. But here’s an interesting caveat from the research: this benefit only applies if the risk is dangerous (involving the risk of death), unpredictable, and social (so you feel like you have to perform for others). The researchers also found that the fittest guys had less adrenaline and cortisol in the system after participating in adventure sports, showing, perhaps, that the fittest humans handle stress better.

The story of the dude who has problems at home working them out through adventure is one we’ve been telling since our gladiator days, but it never gets old. And if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s one more, Marcario De Souza, Bra Boys — the largest grossing doc in Australian history — it will be well worth the price of admission.

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