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The Relationship Between Running and Mental Health

As you know, running, whether on the treadmill, cross-country or in a virtual race, offers a wide range of physical health benefits but it also has a profound positive effect on your mental health. These include boosting your self-esteem and confidence, stress relief, reduced anxiety symptoms, and less risk of long-term cognitive decline.

What is a runner’s high?

Many runners desire the feeling of a ‘runner’s high’ when your respiratory system is pushed to work harder, blood starts to move through your body faster, and your body starts to release endorphins capable of relieving stress and pain. This natural feeling that exercise and running provides can leave you feeling both happy and relaxed, but there are also further mental health benefits to running, take a look at our list below.

Improve Stress Management

Running can help to control your stress levels and improve your body’s ability to deal with current mental tension. As well as helping to improve your mood and relieve stress in the short term, running can also improve stress management in the long-term. An increase of the norepinephrine chemical also occurs when exercising, and can help your brain to moderate your stress response.

Boost Your Self-Esteem

Running regularly and reaching your personal fitness goals is sure to improve your confidence, improve your mental health and boost your self-esteem. Working towards your targets and witnessing your physical improvement will also have a great psychological effect on how you perceive yourself and your body image, therefore improving your self-esteem.

Produce Vitamin D

Running outdoors in the sunshine will assist your body in producing vitamin D. This nutrient has a wide range of benefits including reducing your likeliness of experiencing the symptoms of depression.

Prevent Cognitive Decline

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. However, running can help to improve the brain’s ability to reduce and slow down the cognitive decline that often begins after the age of 45. Running or taking part in vigorous exercise can help to boost chemicals in your brain that work to support and prevent the decline of the hippocampus which is the area the brain that is important for emotional processing, memory and learning capabilities.

Reduce Feelings of Anxiety

The chemicals released while running, and afterwards during your ‘runners high’, can aid people who feel an increased sense of anxiety to feel calmer and more relaxed. Often simply having a focus such as running can help to improve your mental health and mood.

Improve Brain Performance

Any type of cardiovascular exercise, such as running can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Intense running can also potentially help improve decision making and more advanced thinking and learning due to an increased level of a brain-derived protein in the body.

Aid Sleep

For people who struggle to sleep, running can be an effective way to aid sleep and improve your mental health. Running around five to six hours before heading to bed will raise your body’s core temperature so when it returns to normal later in the night, your body and brain will recognise it is time to sleep.

Increase Productivity & Creativity

Running can help to improve motivation, fight fatigue and increase your level of productivity due to improved levels of energy. Running regularly can also lead to an increase in cognitive flexibility and improve your ability to quickly switch between mental tasks. An intense run can also boost creativity for up to two hours after a session and help you think differently or more clearly.

Is it better for my mental health to run outside or on the treadmill?

When it comes to running, all movement is positive and so once you begin to push your body, it won’t matter whether you are running over fields or on the treadmill. However, there is a wide range of additional psychological benefits to exercising outdoors such as a sense of freedom.

Join our Supportive Virtual Running Community

Whether you’re new to running or a seasoned marathon runner, our virtual races are ideal for a range of abilities. Enter a virtual 5k, 10k, half-marathon or marathon race today and join our supportive virtual running community online.

Staying active and taking part in our virtual races will help you keep motivated, reduce stress levels, and improve your physical and mental health. Discover how to enter our virtual running events today!