Running is a very popular form of exercise, thanks to the many benefits it provides. Running is a great way to improve your cardiovascular health, build muscle, and burn calories, but did you know that as well as the physical benefits, running can be very good for you mental wellbeing too?
The Runner’s High
Many runners sing the praises of the runner’s high, but is it real? As you run, your heart pumps harder, pushing blood around your body at a faster rate. Your respiratory system works harder, and as you push yourself to run longer and faster, your body begins to release endorphins. These endorphins act as a stimulant, giving you that runner’s high feeling, offering a great break from anxiety and worries.
Running can be helpful for controlling stress and boost your ability to deal with existing mental tension. This happens are exercise like running releasing a chemical called norepinephrine, which can help to moderate the way your brain responds to stress. For many runners, the concentration on pace and correctly striking the ground with each stride also acts as a distraction from everyday stresses.
The Sunshine Vitamin
If you run outside on a sunny day, then the sunshine will help your body to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is very important for many things, but also plays a part in lessening the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression.
If you’re going to run outside, make sure you take care of your feet and knees, as the uneven surface can lead to injury. Custom orthotics can help with running injuries like Runner’s Knee.
Prevention of Cognitive Decline
Running won’t cure conditions like Alzheimer’s, but it can help the brain to minimize and slow the cognitive decline that begins after the age of 45. Physical activity like running, especially between the ages of 25 and 45, boosts the brain chemicals that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is important for learning and memory.
Calmer State Of Mind
Chemicals are released during and after running, which can help those struggling with anxiety to feel much calmer. It doesn’t matter if you run inside or outside, on a treadmill, trail or track, as long as you’re moving your body to release those chemicals which can you help you cope. For some people, the time alone with your thoughts as you run can be very calming too. Running can be a good way to get some headspace.
Running can also help with depression. If you’re struggling to find motivation, getting out for a run can give you a sense of purpose, and the endorphins will have you feeling better when you get back. Some research has even suggested that aerobic exercise can help as much as psychological therapy.
Cardiovascular exercise, including running, aids in the creation of new brain cells and improves the overall performance of your brain. Running hard increases the levels of a brain-derived protein which is thought to help with decision making, thinking, and learning. This could make running the ideal stress-relieving break during exam revision!
Physical activity releases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which all affect focus and attention. For anyone, this can improve concentration, memory, mood and motivation, but this can be especially helpful for those with ADHD.
A moderate run can knock you out just as effectively as taking a sleeping pill, even if you struggle with insomnia. Exercise or a run between five and six hours before your bedtime will raise your core temperature. When your temperature returns to normal a few hours later, this acts as a signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep. You’ll find it easier to drop off and get deep, refreshing sleep. If you’re tired after your run, you’re more likely to find going to sleep much easier too.
If you’re struggling to concentrate at work, then taking up running could be the answer to boost your motivation. Workers who exercise on a regular basis are more productive and more energy than their less active colleagues. If you can fit it in, then midday is believed to be the ideal time to work out for your natural circadian rhythms. If you can’t manage a run at lunchtime, don’t worry. You’ll still benefit regardless of what time of day you work out.
A run that gets your heart-pumping can boost your creativity for up to hours after your run. If you’re staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike, lace up your trainers and go out for a run instead to get your creative juices flowing. Your body and brain will be refreshed and you’ll feel a lot more creative.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus your mind on the present instead of letting it drift to worrying about the future or the past. Running is an activity that can be done mindfully, by focussing on your stride and your breath as you run. This helps you to connect to your physical self and refocus your attention onto your body, instead of focusing on unhelpful or unhealthy thoughts that can lead to negative feelings.
As you run, focus on the physical movement of your body, joints and muscles to feel the full benefit. An exercise that involves cross-movement, and that engages both your arms and your legs are the best for this, making running an ideal candidate for a mindfulness workout. Walking, swimming or dancing work well too.
Running is one of the best forms of exercise for mental wellbeing as well as physical health. Make sure you keep your runs healthy by investing in proper running shoes that will support your feet and reduce the risk of injury. Stay safe when running outside by wearing hi-vis clothing. Running just a few times a week can be enough to really feel the benefits and improve your mental health without the need for medication.