Why Running Relieves Stress
Why Running Relieves Stress
With today’s hectic and fast-paced lifestyles coupled with long commutes and the pressures of work, among other factors, it is not surprising why many of us are in a chronic state of stress.
Let me ask you this question…how do you cope with stress? Is it by binge-watching on Netflix? Watching movies on the big screen? Or just sleeping all day?
What if you’re told that there’s a healthier way to cope with stress? Running, one of the best and simplest aerobic exercises does not only help one lose weight. It can also be an effective way to relieve stress.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. And as you will learn in this article, there are many ways by which running can relieve stress.
Running Gives You a Different Kind of High
You might have heard someone talk about getting an ‘endorphin rush.’
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are responsible for the euphoric high. These natural hormones, which are released by our bodies wafter exercise, interact with the receptors in our brain. This leads to a reduced perception of pain and when that happens, you’ll feel elation or a ‘high.’
Have you ever experienced sweating it out after a bad day at the office? If so, you might still remember how the exercise turned your day around.
Like other forms of exercise, running can cause your body to release those endorphins that can make you feel good. Endorphins are said to be at their peak an hour after you finish exercising.
Keep note of endorphins because these body chemicals will be mentioned in other parts of this blof post. This shows how important this hormone is in improving our mental state!
Running Lowers Cortisol
Speaking of hormones, there’s one hormone which is released by our bodies when we are stressed—cortisol.
OK. You might be asking--- what does cortisol have to do with stress?
Like endorphins, cortisol is a hormone produced by our bodies. But unlike endorphins which can help relieve stress, cortisol levels in our bodies actually rise when we are stressed.
The fact is, exercise can cause an increase in cortisol levels. But regular exercise like running can help in lowering cortisol levels. One study conducted by experts from the University of New Mexico showed that regular exercise can reduce cortisol and subsequently stress.
Running Can Ease Frustration
When not properly controlled or managed, stress can lead to frustration. Have you ever felt irritated or upset after several tiring and stressful days? Stress can cause us to lose our composure, right?
When frustration builds up after a period of prolonged stress, it can result in anxiety, panic and other mental disorders. It’s like a volcano that erupted violently after being inactive for many years.
By running regularly, you can release tension and burn off those pent-up emotions.
Running Clears the Mind
Now, here is another explanation why running can relieve stress—it can help clear your head.
In fact, runners will often tell you that you should go out for a run if you are feeling down, suffering from some creative block or when you can’t seem to decide about something important.
For me personally, after a stressful day or week at work, running is the best way to clear my mind.
Neuroscientists have an explanation on how running can clear the mind. Studies have shown that increased activity happens in the frontal lobe of the brain in people who regularly exercise. Moreover, 30 to 40 minutes of intense workout like running can increase the blood flow to this region. This part of the body is also associated with many of the attributes associated with clear thinking like focus, concentration, and time management.
According to Karen Postal of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, vigorous aerobic exercise like running can trigger the birth of new neurons in the brain. This not only clears your mind but can also help you to improve your memory.
Running Improves Mood
There are several ways by which running can improve your mood.
Remember the endorphin hormones we mentioned earlier? Running increases endorphin level in the body, which can cause you to feel ecstatic. Studies have shown that even a 30 minute run on the treadmill can elevate a person’s mood!
Running can also improve oxygen flow around the body and over time, more tissues will receive and use oxygenated blood that can improve your energy levels.
It’s not only the muscles that receive a fresh supply of oxygenated blood during exercise. Your brain also gets a steady stream of blood. According to scientists, regular aerobic exercise like running can increase the levels of the BDNF neurotransmitter in the body. This helps promote brain cells build-up. This also explains why you would feel mentally sharp after a very challenging workout session.
And then there’s the social aspect to it. Running with others can help you win a friend or two. Or meet your pal for a run in the park to release some pent-up emotions and improve your mood.
Finally, accomplishing a running-related goal can also lift your spirits. When you’re too stressed with work, why don’t you head outdoors and run briefly? Set a goal for a specific amount of time, like running 5 kilometers in 30 minutes or less. You’ll naturally feel good about yourself when you accomplish that goal.
Still not convinced that running can elevate your mood? Then you should hear the results of a 2008 study that was published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. In that study, participants composed of non-exercisers, moderate regular exercises and ultramarathoners ran or walked for 30 minutes. After the workout, it was found that everyone’s mood improved. However, the regular exercisers and ultramarathoners were the ones who felt less fatigue and greater vigor compared to the non-exercisers.
The bottom line is simple - if you’re having a bad day because of stress, go out and run!
Running Fights Off Depression
Running can be therapeutic. If you’re trying to overcome depression, you don’t need to see a therapist. Running alone can do wonders.
Again, we can all point to endorphins for giving us a different kind of high after running. But the increased level of endorphins isn’t the only explanation why running is effective in fighting off depression.
Numerous studies have shown that depression is due to low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain like norepinephrine and serotonin. These brain chemicals are stimulated by vigorous exercise like running. Thus, when you go out and run, you are helping your brain produce these neurotransmitters that can help you hold off depression.
So essentially, running can fight chemical imbalances that lead to depression. It can also challenge the many physical manifestations of depression such as lack of energy, headaches, anxiety, loss of concentration, and lack of confidence.
Running Can Boost Your Confidence
And since we’ve mentioned lack of confidence, you should realize that running can also give your self-confidence a boost.
Running regularly will tone your body. It can help you build muscles and lose weight which can make you feel good about yourself and consequently give your self-confidence a lift.
Aside from making you feel good about your body, running can also improve your self-confidence in other ways. The mere accomplishment of a goal you’ve set before a run can do a lot of wonders to your self-confidence.
Let’s say you gave yourself the goal of completing a 5-kilometer run. It may have sounded too ambitious for you in the beginning. But you persisted and eventually accomplished the task. The personal achievement can make you realize that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Running Reduces Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the many negative effects of stress. It can persist even if a stressor or a stress-causing factor is gone.
With anxiety, fear is the overpowering emotion or feeling. It not only makes you worry a lot but also experience other physical symptoms such as dizziness, chest pains, and shortness of breath.
Anxiety disorders are very common. The National Institute of Mental Health says there are about 40 million American adults who have it. In the United Kingdom, about 6 million people suffer from anxiety.
You don’t need to see a specialist to overcome anxiety. Running alone can be an effective therapy for anxiety.
Again, running’s impact on this mental disorder goes back to the brain. The usual suspects—endorphins—play a role in improving brain function. These feel-good chemicals not only relieve pain but also promote positive feelings, which can help counteract fear in people who have anxiety disorders.
Running Improves Sleep
Running regularly can also have a positive effect on your sleeping patterns and can improve your sleep quality.
And again, there are multiple studies that prove that this assertion is true.
One study conducted in 2011 by experts from the University of Pittsburgh showed that physically active people (meaning those who regularly exercised) sleep longer and better than sedentary people.
Now, you may wonder--- what is the connection of sleep to stress?
Well, sleep can reduce stress levels. When you don’t get enough Zzzs, it can become easier for you to get stressed. The American Psychological Association reports that 21 percent of adults feel more stressed when they don’t get enough sleep. Moreover, adults who sleep less than eight hours a night on the average have higher stress levels than those who get more sleep.
The bottom line is - the more regular your runs are, the better sleep quality you will get and the better chances you have of not being affected by stress.
Theres lots of health related benefits to running which we have covered off in this blog post but i personally love the feel good endorphines i get after a good 5k or 10k run either before work on a morning or on an evening. I've found that over the years its really helped me stay level headed and focused on whats important in life.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab a pair of comfortable running shoes, invest in a heart rate monitor, running clothes & a pair of headphones so that you can listen to your favorite tracks while running!
Check out our product review pages for good heart rate monitors and other fitness accessories.
Good luck and please share your running experiences with us here or on the Forum :)
see you soon :)
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