We all know running is a great way to stay in shape and improve your physical health, but are you familiar with the fantastic effects running has on our mental health as well?
What Happens to Your Mind When You Run?
“Often referred to as a ‘runner’s high,’ the relaxing feeling you experience after a good run is thanks to a burst of chemicals released in your body, namely endorphins, endocannabinoids and norepinephrine,” says Tina Gurnani, MD, an AdventHealth Medical Group Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatrist. “These chemicals create an overall sense of relaxation, and even euphoria, both physically and mentally.”
Not only does running maintain your mental health, but it can also improve it. According to a study conducted by the American Physiological Society, running also stimulates a process known as neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells.
Mental Benefits of Running
The mental benefits that come with running are plentiful. For starters, those chemicals mentioned earlier greatly elevate your mood, boost your confidence and reduce your anxiety and stress. Running has also been known to have anti-depressive effects due to this chemical boost. Researchers from the University of Maryland found that regular exercise can rewire your brain, changing how it reacts to stressful situations and helping you feel better equipped to handle long-term stressful challenges.
In addition, studies have shown that running helps improve working memory and focus and can even help boost your ability to switch between tasks more easily.
Plus, if you’re an outdoor runner, you’ll also get numerous benefits from fresh air and sunshine, which are also good for mental health and clarity.
How to Get Started
For many people, the most difficult part of running is getting started.
If you’re a beginner, don’t be afraid to start small and pick your pace. Try jogging for intervals of a few minutes at a time and work your way up as you’re able. Even a small start can lead to a positive impact on your mental health. Here are three steps you can take to encourage regular running.
Make a Plan
Do you prefer running inside on a treadmill or outdoors? How many days a week would you like to run? Will you run before or after work? Evaluate your options and figure out what works best for you. Having a plan will make it easier to follow through and get up and run.
Take your plan and stick with it; studies show it takes 21 days to build a habit. If you decide to wake up early and run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, encourage yourself to get up and actually get moving. Not only will consistency pay off when it comes to your physical health, but your brain will grow accustomed to your new routine, and your mental health will start seeing results too. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says, “Once it’s a habit, exercise feels easier and doesn’t take as much willpower when you don’t feel like it.”
You can further encourage your new habit by running at the same time of day and consistently listening to the same songs or podcasts while working out.
Remember, you are running for yourself, and only you know your limits and preferences. Discover your ideal pace, find a group of friends to run with and reward yourself when you reach new milestones. Make a fun playlist of workout songs to sing in your head as you run. Find tactics that work for you and incorporate them into your routine. Make running enjoyable in whatever ways work best for you.
Taking Steps to Feel Whole
No matter your reason for running, you’re bound to see multiple health benefits if you stick with it. To learn more about improving your mental health and to find mental health resources for all ages, visit BeAMindleader.com.