Have you ever wondered why you feel so good after a jog? Your body feels lighter, your mind feels clearer, your whole body feels calmer, and you feel like you are on top of the world.
Well, for some people, running is more than just a form of exercise. It's a way to keep their mental health issues at bay. A way to fight depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders and so much more.
But what exactly is the connection between running and mental health? How does it help people with depression or anxiety? And why does it put us in such a good mood?
In this article, we'll explore why running, as a form of exercise, is beneficial for our brains.
Quick note from Brian...there is no doubt running will improve your mental health but if you at all suspect you might have clinical depression PLEASE seek out help from a doctor or therapist. You don't have to battle this alone!
There are numerous studies that show the correlation between running and mental health. If we go over each one, we'll be here all year.
Here are 12 of the most important reasons for why and how running affects our mental health.
The link between exercise and depression has long been established. And one of the main reasons for that is endorphins.
Endorphins are chemicals produced in our bodies that attach to receptors in our brains that deflect pain. Anytime we exercise rigorously, our bodies will release endorphins to help us keep going and reduce stress.
On top of all that, endorphins also help us reduce perceptions and feelings of pain in our minds. For people with mental health disorders, this means a temporary relief from their mental agonies and a boost of confidence and self-esteem to help them get through the day.
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that our bodies produce when we exercise and they attach to the same receptors that THC from marijuana does. As a result, they give runners a naturally euphoric feeling, better known as "runner's high."
One study done by the University of Heidelberg in Germany compared mice that ran and those that didn't. Those that ran produced endocannabinoids and were calmer and less sensitive to pain than those that didn't. Interestingly enough, they also sought out sunlight more than the mice that didn't run.
People with depression often report feelings of chronic fatigue or lethargy. They have trouble getting out of bed even when they get a full night's rest or when they haven't done much. And anyone who has experienced this state of mind can tell you how truly debilitating it can be.
The solution? You guessed it. Running!
Running can help fight off feelings of chronic fatigue by increasing our overall blood levels, which then increases our energy levels. It will give your body a burst of energy to do the things you want to do.
Our bodies are like machines and the more we use them, the better shape they'll be. In contrast, the less we use them, the rustier they'll become. Running helps keep all the systems in our bodies active--our cardiovascular system, our respiratory system, our muscles, and so on.
When you first start running, you might feel it's very difficult but eventually, it'll get easier. Your lungs get better at breathing, your heart starts to pump blood faster, and soon, you'll be able to run faster and longer distances.
Over time, our bodies will adapt because we have muscle memory and the more we use certain muscles, the easier it is for us to keep using them.
Did you know the brain uses three times as much oxygen as the rest of the body? It's no wonder then that running is good for the brain because it also increases the amount of oxygen we take.
When a person runs, they take in more oxygen and get rid of more carbon dioxide than they normally do. This delivers an extra dose of fresh oxygen into our heart, lungs, muscles, and brain. And for people suffering from anxiety, this can help promote a state of tranquility.
You might've heard the term, "runner's high," a euphoric sensation that people commonly get after they run. This is partially due to the sudden increase in oxygen in our brain.
Mornings can be especially tough for people with depression or anxiety. When their symptoms flare up, it can keep them bedridden or homebound for days. Jogging can help them get "unstuck" and out of their rut by giving them a reason to go out.
When a person goes running outside, it'll help them get out of the house, force them to socialize with other people and help them get vitamin D from the sun, all of which have been proven to help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Running helps promote productivity and motivation for people who run regularly. Due to the increase of energy and oxygen in the body, the person will feel more awake, mentally alert, and focused. As a result, they'll also get more things done faster.
For people with mental disorders, this can really help them start the day in a positive way. Instead of trapping themselves in thoughts of hopelessness or worthlessness, running would give them a goal and help them feel more in control of their day.
People with depression and anxiety disorders often suffer from overthinking and over analyzing. Running is a good way to help them take their minds off endless worrying. When a person runs instead of sitting around, they have less time to ruminate.
Furthermore, when a person runs, they have to focus on their breathing and surrounding. They have to watch out for pedestrians, cars, trees, and other moving objects. In other words, they have to be more mindful, be more in the moment, and less in the past or the future.
People with anxiety are often told to meditate because it helps them focus on their breathing instead of their thoughts. Running does the same thing because it's a form of moving meditation. It forces the person to focus on their breaths, their steps, and everything they do and see.
In addition, when a person runs regularly, they build up stamina. They exercise willpower and teach themselves discipline and tenacity, all of which are essential for people who suffer from severe bouts of sadness or doubt. It's a way for them to practice being strong and overcoming mental struggles.
People with mental health issues also often report chronic insomnia. They toss and turn at night and lie awake for hours thinking about things that concern them. And when they can't sleep, it makes their mental health issues even worst.
It's a horrendous cycle.
Running is an excellent way to combat insomnia. When we run, our body temperatures increase and when we stop, it decreases which promotes a feeling of sleepiness. If you have trouble sleeping, try jogging in the evening instead of the morning.
There's no mystery behind this one. When you run, you feel hungrier and thirstier because you are using up the energy and nutrients stored in your body. And now, you have to replenish them in order for your body to heal and get stronger.
One interesting thing to note, however, is that studies show people who exercise heavily will not feel hungry right afterward. They have to wait for their body temperatures to cool off first, back to their normal temperatures, before they'll feel hungry.
Scientists show regular running has the power to improve our memory. It increases our brain cell production and it releases dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, which are all chemicals that work with neurotransmitters that help us record and recall information.
One study scanned the brains of people running and people playing instruments. And what they found was that the brain activities that happen during both of these activities were very similar.
And as if that's not enough, running has also been linked to increasing I.Q, better planning and decision-making skills, and creativity. Haven't you noticed how sometimes your best ideas come to you while you're running?
From endorphins to increased blood levels to better focus, there is no shortage of connections between running and mental health. But don't just take our word for it, there are thousands of inspiring stories of people who learned to take control of their mental health issues by running.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health issues that are preventing you from enjoying life fully, try developing a regular running routine to see if it'll help you.
Talk to your doctor or therapist about running as a way to manage your symptoms. You never know where the first few steps can lead you.
Need more reasons to run? Check out our website for more ideas on how to incorporate running into your everyday life and tips on how to create a better running experience.
As runners, we’re lucky. We don’t require expensive equipment or special sports pitches to practice our favorite form of exercise. Plus, it’s free!
What we do appreciate are a few things: a mild climate, plentiful routes, tracks and trails, a supportive local community of runners and perhaps some company.
Ever wondered where in the U.S offer these wonderful qualities and are the best cities for runners? Well, now you do.