Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Anger and Violence

Running's Calming Effects

Published September 17, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Research has repeatedly shown a link between low self-esteem and depression, violence and suicide among teen-agers. Youths with a low opinion of themselves, especially in the way they perceive their bodies, are more likely to withdraw from society, plunge into depression, then engage in violent behavior.

Psychologists and child behaviorists have recommended repetitive physical activity, such as running, to treat children with low self-esteem. The results are encouraging, as running acted on the patients in two complementary ways. The sense of achievement increased their self-esteem, and their new-found fitness improved their image of their bodies.

In past years, a group of Syracuse runners routinely visited the maximum security prison in nearby Auburn to compete against the inmates. Runners from every walk of life competed against once-violent criminals. First-hand reports from these runners suggested an improved disposition among their captive audience.

British novelist Alan Sillitoe accurately depicted the change in a prisoner's conduct in his book-turned-movie "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner." Sillitoe vividly described the pride and self-esteem in the young inmate who was permitted to train in preparation for a race against runners from a local boarding school.

Similarly, residents of high-crime neighborhoods who engage in aerobic sports show much lower aggression levels than their peers. There again, research shows that oxygen-rich blood, and the dichotomy of high levels of endorphins and lactic acid, combine into kinder gentler children.

In some ways, the impact of sports on personality has its roots in the body types that result. The ectomorphic, lanky, wiry, bodies of distance runners have a minimal muscle mass and a lower density of aggression-generating red muscle cells. On the other hand, the mesomorphic bodies of body-builders and weight lifters have a high red-muscle mass which harbors aggression and violence.

Running may indeed provide a way to deal with the hostility of delinquent juveniles whose low self-esteem and built-up aggression lead to a life of depression and crime. Similarly, running should be invoked more often as a means to dissipating anger and redirecting energies.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

Copyright (c) 2001 The Herald Company. All rights reserved. The material on this site may not be reproduced, except for personal, non-commercial use, and may not be distributed, transmitted or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Syracuse OnLine.