I want to start by saying I am not a doctor. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. If you are a regular you know I have written about my anxiety before. Running became a large part of how I cope with it. Many doctors recommend exercise as a way to help ease anxiety and improve mental health. I wanted to talk about what I found works for me.
How I know running helps me mentally: If I skip a couple days of running I find my anxiety gradually gets higher. And let me clarify, I don’t get anxiety because I feel like I need to run and I haven’t. My anxiety builds about life and running helps me manage that feeling.
Running has both short term and long term effects on the brain. The short term benefit is the release of dopamine and other endorphins. This is often known as the runner’s high. I know some runners that get this feeling no matter how long or how far they have ran. I also have met people who need it to be a decent amount of miles and time before they feel it. I describe this as just feeling GOOD or HAPPIER after a run.
The long term benefits of running on mental health have had lots of studies and are still undergoing many more. One of the benefits they have found though is that blood flow to the brain increases, which helps with everything from cognitive thinking, executive functions, and verbal fluency. They found that all of this improved in people, even just after 6 months of regular running and aerobic exercise.
There is also a lot of research going into how this affects patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients who had years of aerobic exercise actually showed 47% memory improvement over the group who didn’t. That to me shows how much running can help the brain.
I once read that many people get their “great ideas” after they hit 24 minutes of running. So if you are on that treadmill and hit minute 24, stay on for a while longer and you might start building your next great idea.
Even if you aren’t doing it for the long game reasons, the short game is strong. No one ever says they feel worse after a run. Even a bad run still makes your body feel better than before you started. This is how I got into running half and full marathons.
After having my daughter my anxiety was very high and my mental health was struggling. I decided to set a goal of just running one half marathon. It enabled me to get out of the house. I could put my daughter in the jogging stroller, enjoy being outdoors, and just focus on a goal. I registered for the Disneyland Half Marathon and started following a training plan. I found my mental health was so much better on the days I consistently ran. My anxiety seemed much more manageable.
Fast forward 11 years and I am still running and I still notice my anxiety higher on the days I don’t run. Running has helped me tremendously. It has also opened a new world of friends, travel, and community that I didn’t have previously.
If you have anxiety at times, I encourage you to try incorporating more aerobic exercise into your daily routine. Even if that just means a daily walk, try it. See how you feel. There are many reasons beyond just general weight loss and heart health why running is beneficial and mental health is a big part of it. Have fun and go run.
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