Discover Extreme Sports

Featured article in the Winter 2018 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Allison Pigatto, MS, RDN, LDN

Does the idea of jumping out of an airplane, racing down a mountainside, or scaling a cliff face give you a twinge of terror? You’re not alone. According to one study, nearly 25% of the population identifies having a fear of heights.1 Additionally, many Americans recognize a fear of falling and speed. Despite these fears, extreme sports like rock climbing, mountain biking and snowboarding are growing in popularity, and may provide benefits beyond a thrill.

Extreme sports involve a higher degree of risk than other activities. However, many sports are accessible to novices, with classes and training sessions available for different skill levels. Exploring an extreme sport is an exciting alternative to treadmills and free weights, and will keep people engaged while learning a new activity. Additionally, many extreme sports build balance, strength and flexibility, while burning calories.

Sports that involve some degree of danger (or perceived danger) can be an avenue to manage fear and build self-confidence. One study found that participants benefited by confronting and learning to manage fear. Researchers discussed perceptions of fear with athletes participating in base jumping, big wave surfing, extreme skiing and solo rope-free climbing. Athletes reported that facing extreme situations in sports facilitated the management of fear in other aspects of their lives.2

Beyond physical and emotional fitness, extreme sports are also mentally stimulating, forcing participants to navigate challenging situations. Rock climbing, for example, is considered to be a physical puzzle, with routes viewed as “problems” to be solved. Additionally, extreme sports often have strong social communities where athletes train, compete and travel together.

I started rock climbing three years ago and never looked back. Participating in a sport that is both physically and mentally stimulating has helped me stay motivated. If you’re making fitness a priority in 2018, consider a sport that will push you to new extremes.


1. America’s Top Fears 2016. Champman University Survey of American Fears.
2. Brymer E, et al. Extreme sports are good for your health: a phenomenological understanding of fear and anxiety in extreme sports. J Health Psychol. 2013;18:477-87.

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