Running is epic for your body. It doesn’t matter whether you’re lacing up in the city or taking to the trails, running will boost your fitness, cement your healthy habits, improve your endurance, have you exploring the great outdoors and give you a personal goal worth chasing. But the benefits of running aren’t limited to the body. No. Running is great for the mind too.
For many, it has become therapy. A remedial treatment you can prescribe yourself. So to mark World Mental Health Day, we’ve teamed up with the head coaches and running experts at Runna to explain exactly how running can improve your mental wellbeing.
Running: Gets You Outdoors
“Running is more than just stepping outside your comfort zones, it’s about getting outside, full stop. It’s about lacing up, heading into the great outdoors and reconnecting with nature as you explore the world on foot. This is because our ancestral brain controls a lot of our stress response. We're hardwired to need time in nature and spending as little as 20 minutes outside can significantly lower your stress hormone levels. So do it. Take on the trails, do laps of your local park, run through those fields nearby, watch the sunrise as you do your hill sprints or just run along the river as dusk sets in.”
Running: Boosts Happiness
“Chances are, you’ve heard about the fabled “Runner’s High”. Well, it’s real and it’s incredibly powerful in terms of mental health. You see, when we run, our bodies release these chemicals into our brains known as endorphins, which act as a natural drug, flooding us with positive feelings, from renewed levels of energy to overwhelming happiness. But that’s not the only chemical reaction created by running, it also encourages a hormone known as leptin to dramatically decrease, opening the floodgates for dopamine to pass around your brain. That’s where the runner’s high comes from – and according to research by Asics, it only takes 15 minutes and 9 seconds of exercise to feel a positive uplift.”
Running: Reduces Anxiety
“With everything going on in the world, it’s no surprise we have seen such a dramatic increase in social anxiety disorders. There’s a lot going on in the world that’s affecting more and more people. But at the same time, we’ve also seen a huge increase in people lacing up their running shoes, and it makes sense when you think about what running helps with mentally. Essentially, it helps reduce the body’s stress hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol, which then reduces those anxious feelings. But here’s the most incredible part: those that suffer from panic attacks can manage their mood better by simply going for a gentle jog.”
Running: Improves Self-Confidence
“The confidence boost you get from running goes much deeper than a lot of people realise. Not only do you get an instant hit of endorphins, but you’ll also start to feel much higher levels of self-esteem, improved moods, more determination and a better resilience to stress. Part of this is to do with the body confidence you experience along your running journey, but it also has a lot to do with your endorphins keeping your body and mind in sync. When that occurs, you start to enjoy a sense of power and accomplishment that carries over into other areas of your life, in the same way kickstarting your morning routine does.”
Running: Improves Sleep
“Enjoying a consistent amount of sleep each night is one of the most beneficial ways to improve your mental wellbeing, which is something running can help you with. The reason for this is your body releases special chemicals during and after you run that actually help to relax your body and send you off into a deep sleep. Besides, there’s nothing better than climbing into bed with achy limbs and tired muscles as you remember all the best bits of your run, the new streets you explored, the views as the sun came up and your leap over that giant puddle, which you managed to land in your stride. Those are all little memories that will encourage mental wellbeing as you slip off to sleep.”
Running: Encourages Social Interaction
“Hitting the treadmill with your trainer, joining a running club, lining up at the start of a race alongside hundreds of other runners, the running community is geared toward social interaction, which is known to alleviate anxiety and depression, so try it. Try running with friends, meeting like-minded people and surrounding yourself with people that motivate and inspire because this kind of in-person connection and support is what helps us become the best version of ourselves. Running might feel like it’s all about increasing your performance and achieving new PBs, but running with friends is a great way to remind us that we’re surrounded by support, which can only be good for mental wellbeing.”
Running: Provides A Purpose
“We see it time and again that people who set themselves long-term fitness goals, such as signing up for a half-marathon, and then either meet them or exceed them always end up feeling more committed to running, and this kind of positive association has such a positive effect on their mental health. And the goals you set can be totally suited to you. It could be as simple as running three times a week, a half an hour circuit without stopping, beating your ParkRun PB, anything. Once you stick to a goal, it becomes an upward spiral that keeps you motivated as you set even more impressive targets. Essentially, running becomes part of your lifestyle and as you lace up more and more, you’ll start enjoying all the mental health benefits we’ve mentioned more and more too.”
Thanks to the team at Runna for their insight on the mental health benefits of running - also check them out here. For more inspiration, follow us on Instagram and Facebook -- and then subscribe to our Do.More. podcast.