6 Ways Running Can Improve Your Mental Health


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running in australia for my mental health

Every time I return from a run I somehow, and sometimes seemingly miraculously, feel better. I feel just a little lighter, a little more capable of dealing with my problems, a little more able to enjoy just being alive. Running, to me, has been vital in the process of improving my mental health and staying positive in a difficult world.

Running has been like a net that catches me when I’m down. Running seems to know how to unravel parts of my mind to leave me feeling more capable to endure whatever comes my way.

Focus

Running is such a simple and natural process. And it’s built into our natural biological and physiological systems. Humans started running about 2 million years ago, according to research from National Geographic.

And perhaps because of that simplicity and the fact that running is built into our biology, you will find an increase in your ability to focus and concentrate when and after a run. It strips away all of the modernities and distractions of life in the 21st century and brings us to our core nature. A focused and alert mind.

Every time I need to reflect on something, or I feel uncreative or stuck, I go for a run. And it almost always helps to clear my mind.

And to increase this focus you can implement meditative and mindfulness techniques while you run to help still your mind even further.

I find that if I just focus on the sensation of my breath and my feet hitting the ground, I am able to reach a deeper feeling of concentration.

relaxing after running up the australias highest mountain

Boost of Energy

It might seem strange to think that after exerting your energy in a run that you end up gaining energy afterwards.

But you will often find that when you return home after a run, you have a newfound boost of energy. And the amazing thing is that if you develop a regular running routine, this boost of energy can turn into an energy that you always carry with you.

Think of your body as an intelligent biological machine. If you provide it with good food and exercise, your body will adjust and it will adjust by giving you more sustainable, regular energy throughout the day in case it needs to run again.

There is also a really interesting phenomenon called the Runners High“. It’s basically a sensation or a ‘high’ that runners often experience, usually after running for long periods of time (generally over 2 hours).

It’s caused by endorphins and biochemical substances that are released into your body during long, strenuous exercise.

Speaking from my own experience, it really can feel as if you are floating on a cloud. The pain in your body doesn’t disappear but it sort of becomes irrelevant to you, your feet seem to float seamlessly across the ground, you feel as if you could run forever and never get tired (not true, unfortunately).

Running in arequipa peru to get a boost of energy

Better Sleep

It’s no surprise that running improves the quality and ease of your sleep. Your body has done what it’s supposed to do, it’s gone through its natural cycle. Eat. Spend energy. And rest.

It’s not a magic pill. It can take time. But running on a regular basis has been proven to improve sleep. Although, for it to have long-lasting positive effects on your sleep you need to make sure you are consistent with it.

It is also not such a good idea to exercise late at night as your body’s nervous system needs time to calm down so that you can rest and sleep.

Sleep and exercise are deeply connected and can have either a positive or negative snowball effect.

For example, if you get quality and consistent sleep then it will improve your ability and motivation to exercise. On the contrary, if you sleep badly and inconsistently you will find that your running ability worsens, your motivation will decline and therefore it may be harder to sleep.

But whether or not you are in a bad pattern, you can always improve it by remembering this. Run consistently (3-4 times per week), try not to go running past about 7 pm and go to bed and wake up at a regular time.

If you do really struggle with sleep I have written two articles which may help you;

  1. What To Do If You Have Problems Sleeping
  2. Ways to Improve Your Sleep – 5 Steps

Positive Outlook

When you realize just how far your two little feet can carry you, it will give you a confidence and a positivity that is hard to shake.

Running gives you time in nature, time to reflect, time to build yourself up, time to realize just how empowered you already are.

Wherever I am in the world, I know that I can always step outside, take a deep breath and go for a run. And that fact fills me with confidence because I know that whatever is going on with my mental health and whatever situation I am in, I can always pick myself back up through running.

I run out the anxiety, I run through the sadness, I run because I can and I run because it brings me peace.

jared styan running in the mountains in australia

Running Helps Alleviate Anxiety

It may be obvious in this article just how important running has been in my life. And perhaps for this reason above all others. To let out my anxious feelings and to manage my own emotions.

I may also be running to complete a challenge or to get fit but even if running didn’t accomplish that, I would still do put those shoes on.

When you feel anxious, you are often tight, stressed and holding a lot of nervous energy in your body…

Running can seriously help you to release that energy in a healthy way. It helps to loosen up your body by expending the nervous energy that is kept inside of you.

There are lots of coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety but I implore you to give running a try. You might be surprised at just how simple yet effective it is. It can help you to smooth out those extreme lows and highs.

If you have problems with mental health I always suggest that you seek professional help (I’m just some guy who likes writing on the internet). You can also read more Mental Health articles on this blog.

Develops Mental Strength

Running can help you to develop a quiet confidence. A confidence that is persistent and unshakeable, somewhere between madness and tranquillity.

It’s the 6 am runs when you just want to go back to bed, but you don’t. The 3 hour runs that can sometimes be boring and strenuous. It’s the grind. The consistency.

You learn that being a good runner isn’t about being the toughest or the one with perfect form or genetics, it’s just about riding out the waves of pain and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.

When I was near the end of my mission to run up the highest mountain in Australia, I remember those final few kilometres being very difficult. I remember feeling the pain in my chest, the strain on my body, the mental torture of thinking the end was ‘just around the next corner’.

But, somehow between the pain and the difficulty, I found a strength. A strength that came from within me and that I could tap into to get through those last few gut-wrenching kilometres.

I’ve had a few people ask me why I like running, isn’t it painful and boring and difficult?

And I guess it is all of those things, but to me, ultimately, it’s about finding those moments of peace where the only thing on my mind is the pitter-patter of my own two feet.

Running forces you to wrestle with the monster inside of you and gives you the opportunity to tame it.

– Jared Styan

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