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Memories of the 28th Century

Running and Asperger's Syndrome

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I have been acquainted with runners for several decades, and I have found that they do not have the same personality (mentality) profile as the rest of humanity. It is easy to simply pass them off as endorphin addicts, but there seems to be an underlying reason why they require an increase in the amount of endorphins. In addition, the incidence of Asperger's Syndrome among runners is greater than among the population at large. Those two characteristics may be related or they may not; I have not yet determined an answer, but an endorphin shortage can make someone as unpleasant to deal with as Asperger's Syndrome and in some of the same ways.

While some people claim that Asperger's Syndrome is part of the Autism spectrum (including the NIH, see link below), agreement on that is not uniform. And there is no known cause for Asperger's Syndrome, as is also the case with running, so I'm just barking around some trees with this. But if the Running Syndrome is caused by genetic switches that result in inadequate production of endorphins, or if genes cause inadequate endorphin receptors to be created, then it is probable that the cause for Running Syndrome is either genetic or prenatal development.

Conversely, it is possible that Asperger's Syndrome could be treated with opiates or forcing the patients to run. This is a hypothesis that should be tested. If it turns out that there are positive results to Asperger's cases from running, then we can merge the two conditions. We will also be able to try testing the endorphin shortage hypothesis, and is the results of that are positive, then we will be able to look for the cause of the Endorphin shortage.

There is also a possibility that something other than endorphins are the relevant neurotransmitter; running affects several. And the article The Effects of Exercise on the Brain suggests one such possibility.

I started thinking about this, because of a random person in Starbucks; he wastes almost as much time there in the morning as I do (it would be nice if things opened earlier, maybe at five AM). He runs off at the mouth sometimes, and he has shown himself to be a sufferer of Asperger's and a runner. Then I recalled that I have known others with the same pair of disorders, and I wondered whether there might be a link between them. Well, correlation does not show causation, but it does suggest where one might dig.

As it happens, I am not the first one to relate Asperger's and running (see links below). Apparently, the singlemindedness that is a common symptom in Asperger's helps runners to ignore the pain and keep running after a normal person would have sat under a tree to watch the runners go by.

But I am uncertain, because I know of no causal link between running and Aspergerís, and I may have noticed something that is an occasional coincidence, and it is possible that rather than Asperger's causing people to run, both could be caused by something else. But I suggested testing this, rather than just accepting a casual observation. On the other hand the casual observation may point toward something signficant.

Asperger's and running

Asperger's Syndrome Fact Sheet

The Effects of Exercise on the Brain
This article suggests that BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) may be central to the effects of running. This is the first time I have encountered this idea, but it may be true.