Running & Fitness

Mental Health Benefits of Running

Matt Orlando
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In many runners’ experiences, there sometimes comes a point during a run when the rest of the world seems to fade away, where you perform above and beyond your abilities. This moment is often what you’ll hear runners refer to as being “in the zone.” It’s an amazing sensation of achievement and happiness. 

Few if any runners can get in the zone every time, but running to push your speed and endurance—on the trail or a treadmill—may still be rewarded with not only better physical health but also mental health. 

Every run that you go on provides an opportunity to enjoy these mental health benefits. 

Lower Your Risk of Developing Depression

Depression is a common mental health condition that can leave you feeling drained. You might already know that you feel better after every run. But you may not know that going for a jog helps to lower your risk of developing depression. 

In a recent study, it was found that runners were 19% less likely to deal with depression compared to people who do not make this form of exercise a regular habit. That makes it worth putting on those running shoes, even on days when you just don’t feel like getting started.

Improve Your Ability to Think Clearly

One of your goals during those runs might be to develop your calf muscles. But running is also likely to increase the size of critical parts of your brain, such as the hippocampus—the area responsible for memory and thinking abilities. 

Boosting this part of your brain helps you to make more rational decisions and retain important information. Being able to solve problems reduces your stress load and improves how you feel. 

Make It Easier to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting enough sleep is critical for helping you to feel your best each day. While you have probably felt the effects of being up all night at some point in your life, sleep deprivation has consequences ranging from higher risks of obesity, health problems, and accidents.

Fortunately, running can help you sleep better at night because aerobic exercise helps your body release endorphins that encourage relaxation. The process of your body temperature cooling down following a run also can help you to fall asleep faster in the evening. 

Not too close to bedtime, however; the elevated heart rate could keep you awake. Try to time your runs to happen at least two hours before you plan to go to bed.

Elevate Your Mood

Another way running improves mental health is the so-called runner’s high. While it is clear that the body produces endorphins when you exercise, there’s still much more to learn about why you feel so good during your runs and for hours afterward.  

It’s currently believed that your body produces endocannabinoids that flood your brain with a sense of euphoria. This natural elevation of your mood could potentially help you overcome symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

This is why you’ll often see people who are in addiction treatment choose to run as part of their self-care practices.

Gain More Self-Confidence

Running provides you with an opportunity to set new goals and test your abilities within an appropriate range of your skillset. 

For instance, you might start just wanting to jog around the block. Over time, you may set a goal to run for a full mile or train for a half-marathon. As you make progress, you’ll gain a new sense of appreciation for what you can achieve when you set your mind on a goal. 

Your newfound self-confidence will likely transfer into other areas of your life. Hitting that target at work might not seem so hard when you know that you’ve successfully trained to finish a marathon.

Socialize With Like-Minded Runners

One of the best things about running is that you can customize your workout regimen. You may start with solo runs, setting your pace, and competing with yourself. 

Later, you may enjoy running with other people. In one survey, 89% of people who participated in park runs reported that they felt happier afterward. Training for a marathon with like-minded people can be inspiring. 

Running can be a social activity as well as exercise. It can help you to maintain a positive outlook by forming new friendships with others who love living a healthy lifestyle. Making healthy lifestyle changes is easier when you are surrounded by people who support your goals.

During your next run, take a moment to fully soak up the moment. After all, there’s far more to running than just building strength and stamina. Developing your self-confidence, staving off depression, and learning how to deal with challenging emotions are all just a few of the ways that your runs can help you maintain a better state of mental wellbeing.

For more tips and insight into the mental health benefits of running, please check out this article from some friends across the ocean in the UK.