Though I enjoy exercise and sports, I hated running.
I mean I used to question people who run because why would you put yourself and your body through that pain and stress? How can you honestly just run for hours, I mean won’t you be bored? What is in your mind when you run and is it even healthy for you to be alone with your thoughts for that long?
So honestly, I was never really interested in picking up running and it was not until someone joked, “You should pick up long distance running because you’re very good at running away from your problems.” – that I thought I’d actually do it for the laughs. I started running as a joke but it soon became my new coping mechanism and a natural antidepressant.
Running is now an integral part of my daily routine and one that have helped me get through tough times and helped me drown my negative thoughts.
We all can agree that regular exercise can improve your physical health but we’ve seen in recent years that it also has a positive effect on your mental health. Exercise increases the release of endorphins which are hormones that are correlated with improved mood and wellbeing (Steinberg & Skyes, 1985). This makes running a great short-term mood boost. However, what truly helps with depression is that regular running have been observed to increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine neurotransmitters, and also promotes the release of proteins called neurotrophic factors that allows nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This will benefit us as these structural changes to the brain happens in the hippocampus which is a part of the brain that is observed to be shrunken in people with depression (Salmon, 2001).
For me running has improved my mental health in multiple ways.I run first thing every morning and this allows me to calibrate my mind before heading off to my day. Not only does it give me more energy with all the endorphins and such, it’s also me playing this psychological trick on myself – if nothing in my day go as planned, at least I feel I have done something, the run.
Sometimes I also practice mindfulness during my runs. I am not one who can keep still, and so practicing mindfulness through meditation is not ideal for me. With many guided meditations and mindfulness podcasts available, associating the practice of mindfulness with a movement or activity such as running, I get to practice mindfulness during my runs. This gives me 1 hour of every morning to myself where I get to pause my life and reflect. Having this time to reflect allows me to compartmentalize my thoughts and – as cheesy as this sounds – allows me to know myself better.
I also tend to use running as a way to cope. When times get extremely stressful, when I am very overwhelmed or when negative thoughts flood my mind and my outlook in life gets bleak, I turn to running. I guess this allows me to press pause in my life and put my focus on the run. It helps me step back and gives me time to myself, which allows me to remind myself about the bigger picture, about the important things in life and about what truly matters before heading back to face reality again – preventing a spiral.
Now, before I end this post – though yes I truly believe all the benefits that running can bring to our mental health, there are definitely days when running doesn’t make me feel better. There are definitely days where running doesn’t stop me from having those negative thoughts or days where running doesn’t stop me from breaking down in public. There are many days when running seem like a chore.
I agree, running doesn’t solve everything and I will never claim that it alone cures depression. I mean heck, I do so much more than running to maintain my mental health… but it is definitely one really fun way that might just help or one you can use as a way to cope or maybe a hobby that you might just enjoy! One that’s worth a shot this new year’s? :)
To read more about how exercise and other lifestyle changes to improve mental health, click here.
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Blumenthal, J. A., Smith, P. J., & Hoffman, B. M. (2012). Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression? ACSMs Health Fit J, 16(4), 14-21. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of Physical Exercise on Anxiety, Depression and Sensitivity to Stress - A Unifying Theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), 33-61. Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.454.814&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Steinberg, H., & Skyes, E. A. (1985). Introduction to symposium on endorphins and behavioural processes; Review of literature on endorphins and exercise. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour, 23(5), 857-862. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-3057(85)90083-8