Ever since I was in middle school, I have been an avid runner. I started out running small distances, maybe a mile at most, but eventually I worked my way up until I found myself running multiple races and even a half marathon. I started running to get into better shape, but started to realize many other valuable benefits that came along with it. Although many times it was difficult to pick myself up and actually get out the door, I always felt so much better after a run. Whenever I was feeling anxious or depressed, running always eased my mind and lifted my spirits.
Many scientific studies have examined the benefits of running and physical activity on mental health. In a 2018 study which observed over 250,000 people around the world, the most active runners were about 15% less likely to develop depression. Research has also found that when people engaged in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week, their risk of depression was reduced in the future by 30%. Even people with a genetic predisposition to depression were shown to have a reduced risk of developing depression by engaging in more physical activity.
Here are just a few ways how running can benefit your mental health:
A higher sense of self-esteem is a positive benefit of running. Carrying your body through short or long distances can give you a sense of accomplishment and pride. It allows you to feel strong and empowered knowing that you are capable of pushing yourself and reaching your goals. Research has also shown that consistent exercise can lead to improvements in health, fitness, body image, and energy levels, which all are great factoring in improving self-esteem.
Stress relief is one of the most beneficial outcomes I have personally gained from running. Not only can going on a run immediately relieve stress and improve mood, it can also lead to long-lasting stress relief benefits. Running can clear your mind and stimulate the release of “happy” hormones, known as endorphins. It can also slow the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can help in reducing anxiety.
Research has shown that cardiovascular exercise can generate new brain cells and improve general brain function and performance. Running increases the levels of important proteins in the brain (BDNF), which is associated with cognitive improvements, improvements in decision-making, higher thinking and learning, and alleviation of depression and anxiety. Going for just one single run releases BDNF and encourages new brain cell growth across the brain.
Sense of Community:
Running can also provide a sense of community. Especially during times of social distancing, where we can’t see our friends and family as much as we would like to, going on an outside endeavor can keep you connected to the “outside world”. You are likely to see a fellow jogger or walker, smile and wave, and feel less isolated and alone. There are also many running groups that you can join from an organization or just going on a run with friends. Running in groups creates social interaction and leads to more, longer-lasting friendships.
Some days it may be hard to get up and go for a run, but the short-term and long-term benefits of running are substantial. By just going on a short jog a few times a week, you can increase your self-esteem, reduce stress, boost your brainpower, and gain a greater sense of community.
Guest Blogger: Maddy Mandell, MHA Intern
Maddy is a Senior at University of Delaware, studying Health Behavior Science, with two minors in Human Development & Family Sciences and Disabilities Studies. She will be attending New York University, starting in the Fall of 2021, to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work.