Running is one of the best ways of improving one’s health and has many physical benefits. It is one of/if not, the most popular forms of exercise on the planet. It is considered to be the most efficient calorie-burning activity, which is great for those who are on the path to a better and healthier lifestyle.
Running can help prevent a number of health issues which are common today. Issues such as heart disease, obesity, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, as well as a host of other unpleasant health conditions. Many of the above are listed as the most common causes of death by the World Health Organization.
While running can have an incredible impact on our physical health and well being, a lot of runners enjoy a certain level of mental benefits from a run. Running triggers the release of endorphins and thus improves the quality of mental and emotional life. That’s why many people all around the world run, either for the ‘runner’s high’, but also because in a lot of cases we have to run.
There are a number of mental benefits of running which you may or may not be aware of. Below, we’ll run through some to find out more about these benefits.
Moderate exercise can help you cope with stress and anxiety even after you are done working out. It is scientifically proven that exercise cuts down the stress hormones in the body, including cortisol and adrenaline. Therefore, many fitness experts recommend aerobic exercise, such as running, as a way of reducing anxiety.
In 2018, parkrun teamed up with hundreds of GPs in the UK to promote a healthier lifestyle. The initiative, referred to as ‘social prescribing’, aims to improve the health and well being of health care staff, patients and carers, reducing the need for lifelong medication. In 2017, the 1.11 billion prescriptions dispensed in communities across the UK at a cost of £9.17bn (US$11.34bn).
Regular physical activity can help you alleviate symptoms of depression. For example, you can significantly lower the risk of depression by exercising 3 times a week. Researchers have found that only 30 minutes of running on a treadmill can improve the mood in people suffering from depression.
While doing physical activity, your body secretes the increased level of endocannabinoids and endorphins — endogenous “feel-good” chemicals produced by the pituitary gland and the central nervous system that act as the body’s own natural antidepressants. Aside from quelling the pain, endorphins also enhance the immune system, slow down the aging process, and play a big role in relieving stress and anxiety.
‘I started running for health and ended up finding myself,’
— Linguistics (aka Max Owen) on Run, the lead single from his EP Self-Medicated.
The subject of recreational running typically isn’t a feature in hip-hop music, but Owen says it has been his saviour. ‘I got into running about eight years ago when I was suffering from panic attacks,’ he says. ‘I went to the doctors and they recommended I get some exercise outdoors. And so I started running.’ For many, running offers a chance to get out of our own head, switch off the brain, and quiet the mind to an almost meditative state.
Another benefit is the opportunity to run with a running clinic and/or running club in your local area. This could be attending a local parkrun, or say (for me) my half marathon clinic.
Meeting colleagues and friends for a run is a great way of encouraging social interaction that will help you stay motivated to exercise consistently. Running together allows you to make new friends and brings with it huge benefits mentally.
Most runners find it easier to deal with harder workouts if you run with a group, as running partners provide necessary motivation and accountability at every level of training. Furthermore, running and other training groups may help you feel better about yourself and get faster at the same time. You can find running buddies either in running clubs, gyms, on running trails, or by participating in organized races.
Recently with the development of the Internet and social media, online groups have emerged as a way to socially interact with other runners to hold each other accountable, but to also offer support. Just search ‘running groups’ on Facebook and you’ll find a host of groups.
Some may not have the time to socialise or exercise, but when you put yourself first and change your mindset over ‘time’, you start to understand why people run.
An example I like to give is that each hour in the day is 4.16% of the day. Giving yourself just 2% (30 minutes a day) to quiet the mind, fight the voices of negativity, reduce stress and anxiety, you’ll not only see the mental benefits, but also on the recovery front.
Insomnia (i.e. habitual sleeplessness) can be a symptom of depression and other health issues. It has been proven that regular exercise can both increase sleep duration and improve sleep quality. Early morning, as well as afternoon exercise, can also help you reset the sleep-wake cycle. Those who run or exercise on a regular basis have more regular transitions between two consecutive sleep cycles, and thus a better sleep… and we all love better sleep!
Another great mental benefit of running is boosting your confidence level. Lack of confidence stemming from both internal and external factors such as work, relationships, etc. often leads to reduced motivation. With each run regardless of how good or bad it was, self-confidence grows as you gather evidence of your determination and resilience.
Your self-confidence grows with each hill you conquer, each mile earned, each increase in mileage, every second that comes off your personal best. By developing confidence and creating a good body image of yourself, you are likely to increase self-esteem too. Just work on it!
Regular physical activity brings a variety of benefits and it could be the key to preventing some health issues in the initial phase. Therefore, allow yourself to practice running whenever you can. Give your mind and your body time to relax and decompress from the outside world, and you’ll be surprised at how much it benefits you mentally.
You owe it to yourself!
Thank you for reading this article. It is my goal to post more frequently about my journey, running as well as how it ties to mental health.
I am also raising money for three great organisations who work within mental health. The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, and both the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Team Unbreakable here in Canada.
If you would like to donate to any of these three incredible organisations, a donation link can be found here (through LinkTree).