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Did you realise that when you started running, you would see considerable mental health benefits? Maybe your original goal was to lose weight or build better cardiovascular health? Perhaps you just want that piece of chocolate cake guilt-free!  However, did you realise that running will massively improve your mental health?

Runners often talk about getting a runner’s high – but what is that exactly? Well, as you begin to run, your heart starts to pump harder, which pushes the blood around your body at a faster rate. In turn, your respiratory system starts working harder, and you mentally prepare yourself for vigorous exercise. As you continue to push yourself harder and faster, your body starts releasing endorphins. These hormones act as a stimulant in the body, resulting in what many call a ‘natural high.”

While experiencing a runner’s high is one of the best ways to feel happy and relaxed, running, and other forms of vigorous exercise provide several mental health benefits. Let’s look at how running can improve your mental health;

  1. Improve your stress management. Running can control stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Exercise also increases concentrations of a chemical that helps moderate the brain’s response to stress (norepinephrine).
  2. Get more of that sunshine vitamin. Taking your run outside on a sunny day helps your body produce vitamin D. This nutrient can lessen your likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms.
  3. Minimise your brain decline. Running won’t cure Alzheimer’s, but it can help to boost the brain’s ability to minimise and slow the cognitive decline that begins after the age of 45. When you work out, your brain receives a boost of chemicals which supports and prevents degeneration of an essential part of the brain used for memory and learning.
  4. Calm your mind. The chemicals released during and after running can help people experiencing anxiety feel calmer.  It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the treadmill, track, trail or pavement, moving your body is an excellent way of dealing with tough times.
  5. Boost your brainpower! Exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall mental performance. A challenging run increases levels of a brain-derived protein believed to help with decision-making, higher thinking and learning.
  6. Sleep well little one. For some, a moderate run can have massive benefits to sleep, even for people suffering from insomnia.  By moving around five to six hours before your bedtime, you raise the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep.  Genius!
  7. Movement in your motivation.   If you’re feeling unmotivated, the answer might be just a short run away. Research shows that those who take time for exercise regularly, are more productive and have more energy than their less active peers. Experts believe that midday is the ideal time for a workout due to the body’s circadian rhythms.
  8. Get those creative juices flowing!  A heart-pumping run can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards. Many an idea can come from going for a run. The whole premise behind ‘Start Running – Stay Running’ and ‘The Inside Track’ actually came from a run! So, rather than staring at the blank page waiting for an exceptional idea to come to you, grab those trainers, move those legs and refresh your body and brain at the same time.
Running for better mental health
Running: the most under-utilised anti-depressant

Other ways to manage your mental health

Running really benefits your mental health in so many ways, but what if you’re unable to go out for a run at the moment. Perhaps you’re sidelined through injury, or you’re living through a pandemic! Check out some other ways to help your mental health with some self-care…

  • Take a power nap
  • Try a short meditation
  • Go outdoors and spend some time in nature
  • Talk to a friend – call them up for a (socially distanced) chat
  • Take some time away from social media and tech
  • Cook and enjoy your favourite meal or snack, without guilt – only pleasure!
  • Get your mind lost in a book, podcast or mindful colouring
  • Give hugs (where restrictions allow) or stroke a pet!

So how do you manage your mental health better? Do you choose running to improve your mental health? If you need some help in getting started on your running journey, check out our blog So You Want to Start Running. Then check out our coaching programme called The Inside Track and our amazing coaches that are waiting and ready to help you.