01 Oct Running for anxiety
If you’re looking for a cheap, effective way to exercise, and you suffer from anxiety, stress or depression, then you should think seriously about trying running. You don’t need to go fast or far to get benefits for your physical and mental health.
While the physical benefits are well understood, scientists are now finding some of the reasons why many runners report mental health benefits, from emotional highs to a happy calmness.
Research shows benefit of running for anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety, then running is a great option. Several pieces of research have shown that running helps develop what is known as “executive function”. This includes the ability to concentrate and solve problems.
An Arizona-based research team has even found evidence that running helps to calm part of your brain known as the “default mode network”. This is a group of zones in the brain which lights up when you are bored or distracted, and activity here has been linked with anxiety and depression. It is the home of the discouraging ‘inner voice’ you may be all too familiar with.
The opportunity to calm that nagging voice should encourage anyone thinking about running for anxiety issues.
Hormones link running and mental health
When you start running your body starts pumping hormones into your bloodstream, and some these can have an incredibly positive impact on your feeling of well-being.
For example, beta-endorphins and endocannabinoids both reduce the sensation of pain while also making you feel happier and calmer. Researchers have found increased levels of both types of hormones in people during or after running.
Running can flush out the bad hormones
If you’ve ever experienced anxiety or depression then you’re probably aware that hormones aren’t all good: some produce feelings like fear, sadness and desperation.
One example is kynurenine, which your liver produces when you are stressed. Some of it may end up in your brain, where it can contribute to stress-induced depression.
But running causes your body to produce an enzyme which stops kynurenine reaching your brain. So, if you are stressed or anxious, a run can flush out these hormones before they cause long-term problems.
Running puts you in control
Whatever your level of fitness, running is something you can do without a gym membership or any gear more complicated than running shoes. You also have control over how easy or hard your run is.
You can exercise in your own mental zone, without trying to keep up with anyone else or waiting for a piece of gym gear to be free. For many, this freedom is a nailed-on benefit of running and helps them to exercise in a more mindful way as well.
Running can help you to connect with others
The running community is generally a welcoming and positive one, and you will find that you start spotting familiar faces if you run often. A little wave and a smile are a nice recognition that you’re all out there and sharing the experience, regardless of how fast you are.
That plays to our natural enjoyment of being part of a community, and a range of apps can connect you with fellow runners.
Overall, the impact of running for anxiety or other mental health issues makes it one of the best ways to be healthier in body and spirit.