How running can help put your mental health on the right path

There are a number of reasons why running is great. It gets your blood pumping, works wonders for weight loss, builds strength in your muscles and keeps your cardiovascular system in good nick.

But the pros of running don’t just stop at physical benefits, as running is proven to help your brain too. Research has shown that the psychological plusses of running are also numerous, as the activity of running provides a fantastic outlet for relief of stress and anxiety as well as helping to increase individuals’ confidence and morale.

During what can only be described as a very difficult time for most, running has proven to provide a meaningful escape route to a world of new possibilities and freedom – a reason to get out of the house and taking in some fresh air, while not to mention smashing target goals and staying in tip-top shape too.

In a recent survey of 14,00 runners by Asics, they found that a whopping 82% of UK runners asked said that going running during the pandemic was helping their mental health by ‘clearing their mind’, while 78% more admitted to feeling ‘ saner’ and more in control of their mental wellbeing as a result. As this data shows, in a time where most are feeling mental fatigue, running is a surefire outlet to relieve much worry and stress.

In this piece, we’ll be taking a look at how running helps your wellbeing and the many benefits the sport can bring to your mental health.

Why is running so beneficial to your mental health?

That’s a pretty big question, but the truth is that there are a variety of reasons why running helps your mental health.

For starters, it gets you outside and taking in the fresh air that you wouldn’t be getting from any indoor exercise at home or at the gym.

In more scientific-terms, running is an aerobic cardiovascular activity which means that it helps your body pump blood to the brain quicker than other exercises, while also releasing mood-altering chemicals in your brain to positively affect your emotions. It’s a chemical reaction that alters your mood in a positive way.

What can running do for your mental health?

Ease Feelings of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress

There are a number of mental health issues that can be eased by going running consistently. With over a quarter of the UK population suffering from mental health issues of some form, regular exercise like running is a sure proof way to help provide relief to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. There’s a reason exercise is one of the first things medical professionals suggest for those suffering from the conditions.

A study by the University College London found that regular exercise (around three times per week) can ease feelings of depression by as much as 16%.

For starters, it provides a much-needed distraction from weighty thoughts that can provide a form of escape from worries and bad thoughts.

But running also alleviates feelings of stress through a bodily chemical reaction – as regular exercise reduces the number of stress hormones in the body too, while it also helps to boost endorphin (the body’s natural anti-depressant) levels post-run.

Lift Your Mood and Think Clearer

The science behind running improving and maintaining good mental health says that there is a physical element to why your brain feels better from running.

Running increases the electrical activity in your brain, particularly in the hippocampus — an area of your brain that helps to process emotions and preserve memories — and the anterior cortex – an area that helps your brain to problem-solve.

Regular exercise like running increases the amount of volume in the hippocampus (that’s a good thing!) which in turn gives your brain more capacity to process thought and emotions more coherently, while also increasing activity in the anterior cortex too.

So it’s safe to say that running is biologically and neurologically great for the body and mind, be it indoors or outdoors, short or long – it all works to better your mental health.

Be More Confident

Another thing that running regularly can do is build up a runner’s confidence. With each run, progress starts to show more and more, and increasing levels of determination and desire that helps runners work harder to meet their goals and get more enjoyment out of what they’re doing. That’s one of the things that’s so great about running – it can really make you feel better about yourself and bulk up any diminished self-confidence.

Develop a Better Sleeping Pattern

Regular exercise is also proven to help form better sleeping patterns than those who don’t exercise as often. Running, in particular, is great for this, because – as any serious runner will tell you – after an intense session, your body will be feeling pretty tired!

But it’s not just about tiring yourself out. Depression, stress, insomnia and anxiety all contribute to a lack of sleep, and running regularly will help put your mind at ease. Aerobic exercise lowers stress levels considerably, so you can rest well and wake up feeling refreshed and full of energy to start the day.

…and a Healthy Appetite

Running regularly also helps build healthy habits – like having a good appetite. Having a low or loss of appetite is typically a sign of depression and stress, yet this can be combatted by running regularly as it uses the food you put into your body more to transform into fuel.

Thus it also helps to build a more sustainable, healthy diet, as the more ‘good’ food your putting in your mouth, the better your energy levels and running as a result.

Achieve Your Goals and Targets

Running has the capacity to be a form of escapism that allows runners to take a break from other aspects of their lives and focus on one task for a period of time. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be channeled into something more concrete – and most runners will argue that having set targets to aim for gives their running more purpose, and allows for a variety of activities and training to take place.

Creating a set routine for your running is always a way to make it easier. Plan new routes, practice different training like intervals, fartleks, or hill repeats that add a new dynamic to your running. In a time where we’re all a bit stuck on new ideas, freshening up your running routine could be just the ticket to add a bit of something new to your everyday life.

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