Running is often offered up as a good exercise to remedy various ailments of the mind and body. Almost everybody will have had a friend, relative or even a doctor recommend it to them at some point as a way to feel better. But how and why does it work for people? Here we’ll take a look at the physical impact that running can have on your body and mind and examine the different ways that this can affect mood, resulting in improved overall mental health.
Research suggests that the act of running activates the production of endorphins—or ‘happy chemicals’—in the brain, which induce a feeling of elation and euphoria. It can also increase the circulation of endocannabinoids throughout your body; these are molecules that activate your cannabinoid receptors, which improve your immune system and decrease anxiety levels. There is also research suggesting that running can help to regulate your emotions and particularly help you in dealing better with negative ones.
So, when people talk about a ‘runner’s high’, they are referring to an actual physical phenomenon taking place within their body. A short 20-minute or half-hour run can cause chemical reactions in your body that then help you stay feeling better long after the run is over. Many people report that running regularly helps them to control conditions such as anxiety and depression. The chemical effect on their brain is almost definitely a huge contributing factor to this feeling.
In addition to chemical changes, running as a hobby also introduces habits such as scheduling, goal-setting and non-comparative achievement. Whether you choose to run alone or in a group, the only person that you need to compete with is yourself. Along with setting achievable goals, this approach can help with building self-confidence, decreasing anxiety and teaching self-reliance.
The best thing about running is that it’s an easy activity to pick up and can be practiced by just about anybody, anywhere. Many people even go beyond jogging as a mere hobby and use it to give back to others. Using running as an opportunity to raise funds for causes you believe in can give you a greater sense of mental well-being and push your regular exercise routine forward with a clear goal to aim for.
People from diverse walks of life have utilised the power of a good run, such as professional poker player Robbie Strazynski and comedian Eddie Izzard. Many runners who themselves suffer from mental health difficulties have chosen to support others by raising money for mental health charities like Samaritans.org or Mind.org.uk. Running can make you feel good as an individual, but it also gives you the perfect opportunity to make others feel good, too, and help you feel connected to a wider community.
If you are struggling with low mood or an anxious mind, running is a cheap, easy exercise to help you feel reconnected with your body and self. Raising your heartbeat and feeling the heat rise and your muscles protest as you push yourself forward are all worth it for the sense of accomplishment and big dopamine hit at the end. Whether you start indoors or outdoors, on a midweek morning or a Sunday afternoon, running is an immediately-accessible, healthy way to start feeling better.