We all know the physical benefits of running: stronger legs, increased endurance, being much more efficient at running away from bears. However, we rarely take the time to think about the mental benefits of running. For many, merely getting into the habit of running presents an immense mental hurdle — getting over that beginning slump. That said, the stress-reducing properties that running provides can really be worth any initial hardships.
If you have friends or family members that run, you may be familiar with the term “runner’s high.” After jogging for 3-miles, the runners in your life may have some extra pep in their step instead of feeling completely wiped out like how you’d imagine. This is due to the chemicals that running, or any exercise for that matter, releases in your brain. “The runner’s high is caused by our brains releasing endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Exercise also slows the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can help you avoid those big spikes in feelings of stress and anxiety.” Hurford
But how can putting your body in a state where you feel like you may want to fall over reduce stress? Again, we can thank our brain and its chemicals for that. “Exercise can provide stress relief for your body while imitating effects of stress, such as the flight or fight response, and helping your body and its systems practice working together through those effects.” In other words, running puts your body under a controlled state of stress that helps the different bodily systems fight off the stress. Therefore, healthy stress induces healthy benefits. Mayo Clinic
Along with the biological effects of running that reduce stress, there are also some straight-forward, less science-y effects that help just as much. Things as simple as the fact that running is an opportunity to take your mind off of your problems. You are blocking out a period of time each day or week to put everything to the side and focus on one task, kind of like meditating in motion. Instead of worrying about the news or that big project for work, you’re thinking about your destination and what’s ahead of you (mainly so you don’t accidentally run into anything).
Running can be a great way to reduce stress in your everyday life while keeping you physically healthy. But, as with any new habit you may start, it is important to figure out whether running is the right activity for you. If you believe you have any health concerns that may get in the way of your running, talk to your doctor first. And remember, running takes time to get better at, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the endurance yet to run a couple miles in one day. Overtime, the physical and mental benefits of running will surely come to you and start making your day-to-day stress more manageable.