There is truly something about running that’s made it so popular among fitness enthusiasts or even some of you who just want to be lightly active. Is it merely because of its simplicity that you only need a pair of running shoes and your will to execute it? Or does it completely change your whole life for the better?
There are a lot of studies that show how running positively impacts an individual. In fact, running can actually add some years to your life. According to a study by the American College of Cardiology, if you’re running at least 7 minutes daily, you can expect that your lifespan is increased by 3 years. You’ll also be 35% to 40% less likely to develop any cardiovascular disease compared to non-runners.
And that’s not all, running can also help you get better sleep. As it does that, it will ensure that you get stronger knees and a better posture all the while helping you lose some extra pounds. It’s not a miracle but it’s quite close.
Out of all the incredible things that it brings to our bodies, my most favorite yet are the mental health benefits of running. Have you ever heard about a runner’s high? This is one of the things I’ve noted and talked a bit about below. Hope you stick around and let me know what you think.
6 Mental Health Benefits of Running
1. Running boosts your confidence
Did you run 4 laps yesterday? Do 4 and a half today. Did you run 5 kilometers in 30 minutes? Aim for 29 next time. When you run, you are always outperforming yourself and no one else. As you slowly but surely achieve your goals, it boosts your self-esteem to conquer a new time or a new distance.
And it doesn’t only affect your running, it impacts your life as well. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in a study of Hispanic girls, those who were able to do more laps running turned out to have more confidence and self-esteem in their classes, and also as they grew older.
I think it’s also because running teaches you patience and hard work as there are no shortcuts when you run: you have to go through the mile and every second count. Your mindset then starts to change, and eventually, so does your confidence.
2. Running Aids in the Flow of Creative Juices
One famous writer was quoted to swear by running as his form of meditation to tap deeper into his mind and allow his creativity to flow. He would start his run before breakfast and developed this routine religiously.
This is actually backed up by a study by the University of Bristol of around 200 students. The study claims that students who ran or did aerobic exercises in the morning before doing anything else were 23% more productive than those who didn’t.
I’m not so sure if it was due to the habit that was formed which helped their creativity peak or it was the act of running itself which helped the flow oxygen into their brains. But while this seems to be a bit vague, no one can deny that running is truly a great way to start the day.
3. The Runner’s High
Everyone always talks about it. The sense of euphoria you get after finishing a good run. It’s a mix of satisfaction from reaching your goals, the fulfillment of being able to deliver to your commitment to exercise, and it’s also about science. Yes, SCIENCE.
Two researchers from Upstate Medical University studied the state of runners in terms of their mood, pain, anxiety, and serotonin levels after each run. Their research reveals that after finishing a run, runners are on a state of decreased stress which is caused by the surge of happy hormones in the brain which is the endorphins. This is likened to taking a shot of morphine, but even better, as it will only give you the good kind of addiction to exercise.
And it’s not just endorphins that start swimming in our brain cavities, it’s also endocannabinoids– yes, it’s the natural kind of marijuana’s tetrahydrocannabinol. These brain transmitters are released as a way to alleviate the ‘stress’ caused by the physical strain of running which is basically your body’s way of thanking you for the great run.
4. Helps Combat Mild Depression
In connection with the runner’s high, studies have also shown that running is able to help treat mild to moderate depression. Besides the fact that it acts as a form of distraction, it actually helps reduce the risk of clinical depression by 26%.
Running and other forms of exercise are able to make changes in our neural growth and brain activities in that it can actually alter our feelings and release certain kinds of hormones that will make us feel happier. This is why people who run are definitely nicer, and seems to have a more positive disposition in life.
5. Promotes Overall Cognitive Health
Did you know that as you age one year at a time your brain starts getting smaller and smaller more so when you reach the age of 60 to 70? What physically happens to the brain is that the nerves start to thin out, hampering the transfer of synapses from one nerve to another. That’s a bit scary if you think about it.
This is why older people tend to forget things a lot more and are very susceptible to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. However, a study from Time Magazine suggests that running or any form of aerobic exercise is effective in promoting brain health and keeping its functions intact.
The study set out to observe 638 elderlies who were at that time, 70 years old. They set out to do some light activities 3 times a week, even just doing household chores.
After 3 years, the results were astonishing. Those who had some sort of activity had larger brain sizes than those who didn’t. And it’s not at all any strenuous activity or hard running per so, these people only did some light walking. Imagine what it can do to your brain if you’re running.
6. Helps Brain Heal from Withdrawal to Junk Food and Drugs
At this point, you now know how running has a lot of positive impacts on your brain. But out of all the rest this impressed me the most as it targetted both physical and mental health.
Research at Vanderbilt University suggested that people who did fast running in the morning were more likely to choose healthier options for breakfast. This manifested in a study as well for marijuana, cocaine and meth abuse where drug users were asked to run on a treadmill and just after a few sessions, there was an obvious decline in their cravings, and it helped alleviate the all withdrawal symptoms like shaking hands, fever, and cold sweat.
With the release of endorphins in the brain after each run, while allowing the nerves to function better, the brain re-tunes and start to normalize, clearing out any cloud from the substances and drugs that were taken by a user.
I suffered a lot with anxiety whilst growing up in my late teens and early twenties. A lot of my own recovery has been because of running. The feeling of challenging myself and crushing those challenges has helped me gain more self respect and confidence. If you are not a runner but have been thinking about it due to its mental health benefits then please give it a go for at least a month to see how you feel. If you need any tips or guidance please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.
It’s really very difficult to find time to work out and sweat. We are all working our 9 to 5’s in some way and when we get home, we all just want to decline to the softness of our beds, simply to call it a day. People who do it have a lot of willpower and it takes some getting used to in order to sustain.
But you don’t have to start out BIG. You don’t need to run 1km in 10 minutes or run the whole block. Start in your backyard— heck, start in your bedroom. You don’t even need to wear running shoes, as soon as you wake up, still in your PJ’s, just do 5 small laps from your bathroom to your bed. I’m positive that as you do this day by day, your body will soon get accustomed to it and even demand it. Do it until you actually find yourself outside with your running shoes on.
I started running on my wife’s treadmill and I couldn’t even do 10 minutes straight on that. I started 5 minutes a day, as soon as I woke up. Eventually, I started to get attached to it somehow. It made me feel lighter, healthier, and just happy that I got through 5 minutes.
It’s no doubt that running can do a lot of wonderful things not only to our physical health but to our cognitive health as well. The smartest thing to do is start small, but stay consistent. I can run 10km 3 to 4 times a week now, it’s still not an easy thing to do, but the feeling after, WORTH IT.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.