Taking part in extreme and painful adventure challenges can help office workers deal with the impact of a sedentary lifestyle, researchers have found.
In a bid to find out why people pay for experiences deliberately marketed as painful, a team of researchers from Cardiff University, Kedge Business School, France, and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, spoke to a number of people who took part in the adventure challenge Tough Mudder.
As well as conducting before and after-event interviews and studying what was said about the experience online, the lead researcher attended four Tough Mudder events as an entrant, observer and volunteer, in the UK, Australia and the United States between 2012 and 2015.
She interviewed 26 participants, aged 22 to 39, whose occupations ranged from student to nurse and associate director.
Those taking part run through torrents of mud, plunge into freezing water and even crawl through 10,000 volts of electric wires and injuries have included spinal damage, strokes, heart attacks, and even death. As of 2016, more than 2.5 million participants have entered the challenge.
Dr Rebecca Scott, from Cardiff Business School at Cardiff University, said: "On the one hand consumers spend billions of dollars every year on pain relief, while exhausting and painful experiences such as obstacle races and ultra-marathons are gaining in popularity. How do we explain that? That's what we aimed to find out with this research."
The researchers found that contestants spoke about escaping the routine of everyday life and the monotony of work.
One participant said afterwards: "Ready for our road trip back to the normality of screaming children, laptops and Tescos. It was that thought that prompted me 'I wonder if we could just stay here and do it all again'."
Another said: "You kind of come away feeling like you've lived a little bit more. You take your mind and body to a new level of endurance."
The team found that pain helped individuals deal with the physical inactivity of office life and facilitated escape.
Assistant Professor Julien Cayla, of Nanyang Business School, said: "For individuals who feel that modern office work has made their bodies redundant, obstacle racing and other forms of short but intense and painful activities provide a brief but acute reappearance of the body."
Professor Bernard Cova, of Kedge Business School, said: "Electric shocks and ice-cold water may be painful but they also allow participants to escape from the demands and anxieties of modern life.
"By leaving marks and wounds, painful experiences help us create the story of a fulfilled life spent exploring the limits of the body."
:: The research, Selling Pain To The Saturated Self, is published in The Journal of Consumer Research.