Many people run for the sole purpose of keeping fit and healthy physically, whilst others may run as they enjoy it, and are striving towards completing their next marathon. But there’s another great reason to run, and that is that there are many mental health benefits of running!
There are many mental health benefits of running, but before we get into that, let’s look at some statistics.
In the United Kingdom alone it has been estimated almost one in every six adults (17 percent) meet the criteria for a common mental disorder and 26 percent of adults reported being diagnosed with a mental health problem at some point in their life.
When you split this statistic by genders, you’ll see that woman are almost twice as likely to report having been diagnosed with a mental health problem, with women at 33%, compared to 19% for men. Unfortunately, these figures came from people willing to disclose the fact that they suffered with a mental illness, and the true figures could be much higher, because not everyone is comfortable talking about this. Source.
The most common mental health issues that affect people in the UK are ‘mixed anxiety and depression’, generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
If you are suffering with one or more of these problems, then you aren’t alone, and here are the ways that running may help you.
Running with depression
Many studies have been done on the effects that running or a consistent exercise schedule can have on depression.
The often prescribed treatments for depression are anti-depressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, commonly referred to as CBT. However some studies have concluded that some forms of mild depression can be treated just as effectively through exercise and running frequently.
In particular, research conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running on average just 15 minutes a day reduced the risk of severe depression by over 25%, as well as relieving depression symptoms of those suffering with the issue.
The exact science behind why those who exercise more are less likely to develop depression is not clear, it may be due to feeling of being more physically fit and able which brings about changes to the way we think.
It could also just be a coincidence. But many pieces of research have found a link between running and mental health, which leads us to believe that committing to just 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day is a great idea, both for your mental and physical wellbeing.
Running with anxiety and stress
Anxiety and stress are both very common conditions that people suffer with. It has been estimated that 40 million adults in the United States of America are affected by some kind of anxiety disorder.
Running has long been used by many people with anxiety and stress as a way to escape from the stresses of modern life, and to focus on nothing but running and freeing up your mind. It’s a popular option with people because it can be very therapeutic! For many years it has been believed that running can act as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress, and there are now many scientific studies that support this claim.
Exercise has been found to help release endorphins in to the brain, which are responsible for making us feel happy and help relieve pain and bring about positive feelings in the body. Approximately five minutes of aerobic exercise is all that is needed for you to begin to feel anti-anxiety effects, helping to reduce the levels of stress and anxiety you may be feeling.
Feeling physically fitter, mentally stronger and to reduce levels of stress and anxiety are three other fantastic reasons to get into running.
As you can see, running can help with stress and anxiety as well as depression, and here are our other top mental health benefits of running:
Running outside helps produce Vitamin D
Running outside will allow your body to create more vitamin D. The number one way your body produces vitamin D is through allowing your bare skin to come in to contact with direct sunlight.
Which the more you run outside, the more you will do! A vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of depression because of the effects it can have on the body. Various scientific studies have been conducted which have shown that a lack of vitamin D in the bloodstream increases the likelihood of developing depression.
Also, taking a prescribed vitamin D supplement every day can reduce the symptoms of depressions and reduce the risk of developing it all together. Source
In addition to the mental health benefits of getting the right levels of vitamin D, it has also been linked to improved athletic performance and muscle strength. So not only will you feel better, but it could also improve your running speeds and distance!
Running in the morning will wake you up
We all (well most of us!) hate waking up early in the morning. Every morning can be a constant battle between yourself and the snooze button.
But, waking up early and running for just 10 to 20 minutes can really help you to feel more awake. The endorphins released during this time will ensure you feel more awake, active and generally happier!
This is a great way to kick start the day and get you ready for the day’s activities.
Running helps you to sleep better
Not only does running in the morning help to wake you up, but running can also help you to get a better quality of sleep at night. Exercise has been linked to greater levels of deep sleep, which is the phase of sleeping where your body does the most physical repairing.
It is therefore the most important stage of the sleep cycle.
The physical energy you use on your runs can also help you to increase the duration of your sleep. This is because the energy you have used will make you feel more tired, making it easier to fall asleep, and stay asleep.
Getting in to a solid routine of waking up early to run may alter your body’s natural circadian rhythm, allowing you to fall asleep earlier and get longer, more restorative sleep at night, leading to you feeling more rested, ultimately reducing depression like symptoms.
Running can improve memory and thinking
Remember the endorphins we mentioned earlier, the ones that can help you to feel better and reduce levels of stress and anxiety?
Well they can also help you to concentrate and improve your capacity for learning! So not only will you feel better, but you’ll be able to perform better in your work or studies.
Excersire has also been found to help stimulate the production of new brain cells. New brain cells will help to reduce the effects of mental decline we face as we grow older. Helping you to remain mentally sharp later on in life.
Running can help to boost our confidence
Self-confidence is something that we should all have, as we are all great in our own ways. But many of us struggle.
Running can help to boost our confidence in ourselves as we start to see the benefits of our efforts and determination.
The improvements you’ll see in your physical wellbeing and even your running performance will instil feelings of pride in yourself because you will begin to achieve feats that you never believed you could. All those early mornings waking up to go for a run will be to thank when you cross the finish line of your first ever marathon!
Feeling good about yourself and happy in your own skin can go a long way to fighting against some of the symptoms of mental health issues we may face.
This fantastic video will provide you with all the evidence you should need to show that running is a great tool that can be used to improve your mental wellbeing.
There you have it, those are some of the many mental health benefits of running. From reduced levels of depression and anxiety, to increased levels of sleep duration and quality.
Running is a great way to improve and maintain your mental health. Which is another reason why being physically active is so vital for our wellbeing.
In modern times, where many people will stay seated at a desk for 8 hours a day, running can be a great head clearer and stress reliever, which we’d recommend to everyone!
Please remember that if you are struggling with mental health issues then there are many places you can turn to for help. Whilst exercise may help to a certain extent, you should always seek professional health if these issues are affecting your day to day life.
There is always someone that is willing to listen, please visit your local GP, talk to someone you know and trust or get in contact with the Samaritans.
For more information on mental health, please visit: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help