Study: Skydiving Not Relaxing

Veteran skydivers feel less anxious than beginners, but their bodies still release the same amount of stress hormone.
felixbaum1990.jpg

Felix Baumgartner in 1999 preparing to base-jump from the arm of the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Baumgartner camped out overnight at the site and used a high-tech crossbow to shoot over the arm of statue to climb up. (Reuters)

PROBLEM: When our bodies are in stressful situations, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol. We can measure that cortisol to quantify physical (not mental) stress. Research has shown that for social stressors like public speaking, cortisol responses get smaller as people get more used to doing the stressful thing. Does your body ever really get used to things that can genuinely physically injure or kill you, though? Like, a lion attack, or falling from the sky?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers sent 40 people into the jungle. They then released a bunch of lions to attack them. Ha, no, they did the experiment with skydiving. Researchers at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, led by Dr. Michael Smith, measured cortisol levels in 24 skydivers right before and after they jumped. Some were veteran skydivers, some were new. The researchers also asked the skydivers how anxious they felt.

RESULTS: Veteran skydivers reported that they felt less anxious than the beginners. Cortisol levels, though, were equally high in both groups.

IMPLICATIONS: Skydiving seems to terrify the British body even after it stops terrifying the British mind. What else stopped stressing your mind but is still terrifying your body? Yogurt? Everything?


The full study, "State anxiety and cortisol reactivity to skydiving in novice versus experienced skydivers" is published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In