- Youth Mental Health Association
Running and Mental Health
I just wanted to share one of my favourite ways to get exercise, running, and the benefits that running provides for our mental health.
Personally, when I was going through depression I initially just went to the gym a lot and weight trained. However, I still wasn’t feeling better as exercising is supposed to make you feel. Of course, it wasn’t just because I wasn’t doing enough cardio (since I was walking a lot on campus) - the reason I wasn’t getting better was there were other habits and perspectives that I needed to shift. However, when I was on my mental health journey, I started going on runs and I realized that after I ran I always felt somewhat better, that during my run I could not think and just focus on my breathing, and that it felt so nice just to enjoy the fresh air and enjoy the nature that I never noticed.
According to David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “exercise has a dramatic antidepressant effect.”
There is an emotional boost that arises from running which is called the “runner’s high.”
Exercise increases the amount of endocannabinoids, cannabis-like substances that are naturally produced by the body, in the bloodstream which do pass the blood-brain barrier and can “promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.”
It doesn’t have to be running but exercise helps us tremendously, such as producing effects like improved memory and focus, elevated mood, and better task-switching ability. Research has shown that running improved mood in subjects who participated in runs, even with a single bout of running. A review showed that runners experienced a lower level of depression/anxiety and overall greater well-being compared to non-runners. Moreover, research has suggested that a running regimen during stressful times leads to greater resilience. Studies have also shown that participants with physical activity are more likely to see improvements in mood and sleep better.
Personally, running has helped me with improving my mood and stress management. I have also been sleeping better after I have started running and it is one of my integral routines. Additionally, as an individual who struggled with an eating disorder previously and has always either been restricting or binge-eating, running has helped me get back on track and reach the point where I am now where my hunger cues have returned and I am practicing intuitive eating.
However, running is not a substitute for professional treatment and it is important to access help when you need it. But, from my experience, running has helped me greatly in my mental health journey.
By Chloe Kim