When I started running in middle school, I ran for fun and for fitness. When I returned to running as an adult, shortly after having my first child. I ran largely for mental health. I was able to enjoy the positive energy and euphoric feeling I would get after a run. I enjoyed setting new goals and reaching them. At some point in my running journey, that enjoyment had shifted. Chasing new goals and pushing my personal limits began to cause stress on me. My life felt out of balance and my mental health began to deteriorate.
Running has long been recognized as a physical activity that benefits the body in many ways. From improving cardiovascular health to strengthening bones and muscles, the physical benefits of running are well documented. However, recent research has also shed light on the impact that running can have on mental health. In this article, we will explore the various ways in which running can positively and negatively impact mental health, and provide strategies for using run training to manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The Benefits of Running on Mental Health
- Reduces stress and anxiety: Regular running has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness found that running for just 30 minutes three times a week resulted in lower cortisol levels and improved mental well-being in participants.
- Boosts mood and improves self-esteem: Running releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones that are associated with improved mood and reduced feelings of anxiety and depression. Additionally, the sense of accomplishment and increased self-esteem that comes from setting and achieving running goals can have a positive impact on mental health.
- Enhances focus and concentration: Regular running has been linked to improved cognitive function, including enhanced focus and concentration. This may be due in part to increased blood flow to the brain, which provides the brain with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function at its best.
- Provides a sense of community: Many people find that running with a group or participating in races provides a sense of community and support, which can be particularly beneficial for those who are struggling with mental health issues.
The Risks of Running on Mental Health
While running can have many positive effects on mental health, it can also have negative consequences if not approached in a mindful and balanced manner.
- Can lead to exercise addiction: While regular exercise is beneficial for mental health, it’s essential to be mindful of the line between exercise and exercise addiction. Over-exercising can result in feelings of anxiety, guilt, and low self-esteem, which can negatively impact mental health.
- Can increase stress and anxiety: For some people, the pressure to perform and compete can lead to increased stress and anxiety. This is particularly true for those who participate in competitive running events, where the focus on performance can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Can exacerbate eating disorders: For those with a history of eating disorders, the focus on performance and body weight that is often associated with running can exacerbate disordered eating patterns.
Strategies for Using Running to Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Issues
- Make running a priority: Regular exercise is essential for good mental health, so it’s important to make running a priority. Aim to incorporate running into your routine at least three times a week, and be consistent in your training.
- Find a supportive community: Joining a running group or participating in races can provide a sense of community and support, which can be beneficial for managing stress and anxiety.
- Focus on progress, not performance: Rather than focusing on performance and competition, focus on making progress and setting personal goals. This will help to reduce stress and anxiety and increase feelings of accomplishment and self-esteem.
- Listen to your body: It’s essential to listen to your body and avoid over-exercising, which can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt, and low self-esteem. Instead, aim for a balance between physical activity and rest and recovery
Running is a powerful tool for promoting and maintaining mental health. From reducing stress and anxiety to improving mood and self-esteem, the benefits of running on mental health are well documented. However, it is important to remember that running can also have negative impacts on mental health if it is not approached with caution and proper planning. To make the most of the positive impacts of running on mental health, it is recommended to set realistic goals, listen to your body, and focus on maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. With the right mindset and approach, running can be a transformative and enjoyable experience for your mental and physical well-being.
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