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Four Ways Running Positively Benefits Mental Health

A woman in a park helping her mental health.

Have you ever felt stressed and anxious, but then started running and felt some of that tension melt away with each step forward? Running can be a powerful way to reduce stress, unwind from a busy day, connect with your body, dedicate time to self-care, or work towards a personal goal. Scientific studies have shown that running can positively impact mental health in a number of ways. Here are some of the ways that running can help improve mental health:

  1. Strengthening a mind-body connection. Running is an inherently meditative activity. The body is moving in the same pattern over and over as your lungs breathe in and out rhythmically. To go a step further, try out a mindful run by running without music and being present in how your body feels with each forward motion. Focus on each breath in and out. Pay attention to the sounds around you and what you see. This practice allows runners to focus on strengthening their mind-body connection and mindfulness skills. Having time to practice mindfulness skills while running allows you to utilize this skill outside of running as well.
  1. Alleviates stress and/or anxiety. Have you ever experienced a “runner high,” or after completing a hard workout you feel as if you could conquer any challenge? Running is known to reduce cortisol levels in the body. As you run, your body naturally releases pent-up energy along with endorphins and serotonin. Combined, this naturally improves someone’s mood and decreases stress and anxiety. 
  1. Space to show up for yourself. Most runners have consistent days or times they run each week. This creates structure and routine in week-to-week life, allowing for stability and progress towards goals. The act of being consistent with a routine and/or achieving a goal (such as a race or distance) brings satisfaction, confidence, and pride to a person, further boosting self-esteem and confidence.  The feeling of satisfaction that comes with achieving goals allows for further self-trust and the knowledge that you have dedication. 

Increased social interactions. Humans all desire to find spaces where they belong and matter. Though running can be done alone, many times people join running clubs, training teams, or workout groups. Having these routine social connections and spaces allows people to feel more connected with their communities. Running groups can help build a support network of like-minded people who are working towards common goals.

By Annie Murphy, Intern

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