Running Can Improve Mental Health in These 5 Amazing Ways

This is a guest post by Matt from Empower Your Run. Empower Your Run is a health and running-oriented blog which will help you make this amazing physical activity your regular dose of self-improvement. Furthermore, he addresses all the problems a runner may face, runs various tests and recommends the best gear.

Welcome Matt to the blog!

When speaking of running, the common reasons that people take up this activity is to lose weight or improve their physical health.

However, did you know that running yields some equally powerful benefits to one’s mental health, although this is not talked about as often?

Yes, it’s true, and in today’s article, I’m going to present to you what science tells us about all the wonders that running can do for your brain and mind!

It fights symptoms of depression

Running, just like other forms of aerobic exercise, helps to mitigate the symptoms of depression. As a matter of fact, it’s so effective that certain doctors recommend it to their patients as a form of or a complement to psychotherapy.

Some researchers decided to compare the effects of running, cognitive behavioral therapy, and both of them combined on a group of patients and reached the conclusion that all three produced very similar results.

Probably the main reason why running works so well in case of this problem is that it promotes the production of endorphins, also known as the “feel good” hormone.

You might have heard of the “runners high”, a calm and peaceful feeling that one gets during or after a good run. Well, this is due to endorphins which are nature’s best antidepressant.

So, in case you suspect that you have some light symptoms of depression, try to take up running for a few weeks and chances are that you will feel better.

Running has always helped me stave off any mental health concerns. It has such wonderful powers to even help shake off a stressful day!

– Kate

It improves self-esteem

Running may boost a person’s self-esteem in several ways with the most obvious one being improved physical appearance and weight loss after several weeks of consistent training.

Besides this, running poses a mental challenge as it is about setting goals, testing your limits and pushing yourself to do better.

Once you experience the amazing feeling of overcoming something that you previously thought was impossible (e.g. running 10k, or a marathon), your mood will skyrocket and you’ll be driven to do more.

On top of this, we have science backing this statement too. A study which included adolescent girls running laps for time found that those who ran more laps and a faster pace, besides being more physically fit from the rest, were also more confident.

It makes you sleep better

A good night’s sleep is one of the most critical factors for an individual’s mental wellbeing, and it is also a factor that suffers a lot due to our busy lives and hectic lifestyles.

Those who don’t sleep well are more likely to get more stressed out by small things, have more difficulty focusing, and may experience brain fog, among other things.

Now the reasons for a poor sleep might vary from personal choices and obligations to physical or mental health problems. People who suffer from depression or anxiety are less likely to sleep well, but luckily, running can help to mitigate both of these issues too.

The physical exertion brought on by running helps to regulate one’s circadian rhythm, makes people fall asleep faster, and increases alertness and energy levels during daytime. The quality of your sleep will significantly improve, and those who suffer from insomnia should experience a decrease in symptoms.

I always found after running and most workouts that I sleep so much better!

– Kate

It decreases one’s cravings for unhealthy foods, alcohol, and drugs

I know it sounds too good to be true, but according to a study by Vanderbilt University, it is!

The results of the study showed that people who ran for about an hour showed that they would rather choose a healthy snack like fruit instead of junk food or candy when they were done running.

Also, those tested had a decreased craving for alcohol and even hard drugs after their run.

Frequent marijuana smokers reported lowered use of this substance as well as a decreased desire after only a couple of running sessions.

Now, how does all this relate to our minds? Well, as you may have heard, psychoactive substances are known to have varying degrees of negative impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health, so using less of them is indeed a positive thing.

The same thing goes for sugar and junk food – it’s bad for the body and this reflects on a person’s mind as well, so you’re better off without it.

One of my biggest memories in college was when I started disliking the greasy food in the student center once I found running my junior year. The food didn’t sit well when running after and therefore pushed me to make healthier choices. It just seemed to happen by default!

– Kate

It helps the brain fight aging

As we age, mental illness and cognitive decline start becoming greater and greater threats. Rates of conditions like Alzheimer’s have been skyrocketing in recent years, and while running may not cure them, it may lower the chances of developing these diseases.

In which way does running help here? It’s all about chemicals. After the age of 45, the hippocampus, a part of the brain in charge of learning and memory, starts to deteriorate.

Running promotes the production of certain hormones and chemicals that prevent this deterioration and thus maintains the overall health of the brain.

According to a study published in Time, elderly people who regularly engaged in aerobic activities (including running) showed better results on brain scan tests than those who weren’t as active.

Final Word

I hope that this article helps to shed light on the mental aspect and benefits of running, and a look from this angle might help certain people develop an affinity for this activity or at least give it a try. But please, if you’ve read this article, don’t just set and forget it – do something today. Start running for a while, or share the article with a friend who’d benefit from running. You’ll feel so much better, trust me! – – – Matt

Thanks so much Matt for your great article! I hope this inspires others to give running a try. There is no reason to go out fast, long, or push too hard. Even a nice easy jog offers a lot of these benefits!