Can Running Help With Anxiety Symptoms?

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The overall benefits of exercise for physical and mental health are undisputed. 

As one of the easiest ways to exercise, running is an incredibly powerful tool that has countless benefits for tackling poor mental health. Besides the obvious positive benefits of a regular exercise program, we shouldn’t overlook the extra incentives: stress relief, boosted cognitive function and some truly wonderful chemicals released by the brain!

Running is a powerful tool for helping with anxiety. Running has the power to reduce the chemicals associated with stress. It can drastically boost the feel-good chemicals in your brain. The increased oxygen flow to the brain allows you to feel better and think more clearly.

There are various ways in which running can help you with stress and anxiety. This begins at a molecular level and continues across several aspects of your overall wellbeing. 

To understand how running will help with anxiety, it’s important to understand what happens in your brain and body while running.

Can Running Help With Anxiety and Mental Illness?

Can running help with anxiety?

The short answer: Yes!

Running regularly is a great way to boost your mental health and brain chemistry.

While running is known to have various health benefits when it comes to cardiovascular fitness and other aspects of physical health, many people are unaware of the enormous mental health benefits that can be seen from running. Running (and intense exercise generally) is considered one of the best methods of reducing anxiety.

Key Mental Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

If we look at the act of running from a scientific perspective, intense exercise causes various chemical processes in the brain that positively affect the overall mental state. Various neurotransmitters are released, each of which has a different – but positive – effect on the mental state of the person in question.

One of these neurotransmitters is norepinephrine. The increased presence of this brain chemical is known to significantly enhance focus. Endorphins are also released during running, and these are known to contribute to the well-known phenomenon referred to as “runner’s high.” 

This is a euphoric state of calm that is often experienced after any intense exercise, but it is particularly powerful if you are running outside.

The significantly increased oxygenation of the blood during running means that significantly more oxygen moves through your brain. As a result, your mental fog is lifted, and you can think more clearly. Things that might have caused you enormous stress before your run are reduced to minor issues after the clarity you have received from a run.

The significant reduction in stress hormones following high-intensity exercise such as running means that you can feel good in general while thinking more clearly. A reduction in stress hormones and an overall improved mood means that anxiety levels will be significantly reduced. Mental health conditions can be targeted literally one step at a time.

Simply being able to think more clearly, sleep more deeply, and enjoy higher productivity levels will greatly reduce your anxiety levels. 

Other Mental Health Benefits Of Running

Various other mental and physical health benefits of running that directly or indirectly affect your anxiety levels. Various factors contribute to anxiety, and running can help to maintain a certain degree of control over many of these factors.

Reduce Stress

Running can reduce stress significantly. This is achieved through a major reduction in the stress hormone cortisol when going for a run. If your stress levels are reduced, so too are your anxiety levels.

As the blood circulation to your brain increases, the areas of the brain that respond to stress and improve mood are affected to a large degree. As a result, you will develop an improved reaction to stress as time passes.

Improve Mood

Overall, running will improve your mood, no matter the length or intensity of the run. In addition, people experience significantly reduced discomfort levels after a run. Many runners experience what is referred to as “runner’s high.” This can be described as a state of euphoria experienced after a run. 

Achieve the ‘Runner’s High’

Endorphins are released after a run that can create this feeling of euphoria and calm. During this time, a person will often feel a high degree of calmness and significantly reduced symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.  

There is contention as to whether the feeling of euphoria known as the “runner’s high” is caused by endorphins or endocannabinoids. It is argued that endorphins would not necessarily be able to have this effect as they cannot travel through the blood-brain barrier.

Endocannabinoids, on the other hand, are easily able to break through this barrier, so the higher concentration of these chemicals may be the thing that helps make runners feel calmer and less anxious.

Physical Activity Lifts Brain Fog

Running makes a significant difference to your overall mental clarity. The chemicals in the brain are changed significantly thanks to the increased amount of oxygen that makes its way to the prefrontal cortex. The outdoor sun and fresh air are also major contributors to the lifted brain fog and significantly increased mental clarity.

Thanks to the increased blood flow and oxygen flow to the brain, cognitive decline can be prevented to a large degree by incorporating running into your schedule. Runners can also see a significant increase in memory overall.

Overall, running can help you be significantly more productive while simultaneously increasing your creativity, energy, and mental clarity levels.

Better sleep quality is enjoyed by those who run, and with better sleep comes a host of additional benefits, including significantly decreased anxiety and stress levels.

Runners also enjoy vastly improved self-esteem and overall body image. The more you exercise, the more you can see what your body can achieve, and the more motivated you are to push your body to new extremes.

By taping your body’s ability to exercise regularly, you may even find significantly increased pride in your body and a significantly improved body image.

The list goes on…

Running isn’t just about improving your cardiovascular health. It’s a way to manage stress and get on top of mental health issues, too.

Tips For Running For Anxiety Relief

To get the most out of running for anxiety relief, it’s best to follow certain running guidelines. The frequency with which you go running and the length of time you run will significantly impact the overall benefits you see from your running session.

While not running for a sufficient time will result in fewer overall benefits for you, running for too long or running too frequently can also have detrimental effects. It’s important to find a healthy balance for the frequency and duration of your runs to see the most benefits of the activity.

To get the best running results, try running three times per week with sufficient rest between running sessions. This will help build your fitness while ensuring that your body has enough time to recover. 

The intensity of your running can easily be varied. By varying the intensity of your run, you can adapt to different running circumstances that will ensure a healthy workout regimen. A varied running intensity will allow you to take it easy on days you need to and up the intensity when you’re able.

This way, you won’t feel pressure to embark on a gruelling run every day, but you will instead be able to listen to your body and only do as much as possible. It’s not sustainable to run up to two hours every day like some experienced athletes. Listen to your body instead.

Find The Running Program That Works For You

Running in nature to boost mental health
Running in nature is a great way to boost mental health

There are many variations that you can attempt when it comes to running programs. Not only will these variations help you to create more interest in your workouts, but they will allow you to challenge yourself with running in new and interesting ways.

Try going for a slow long-distance run every once in a while, and opt for other types of workouts such as tempo running, hill repeats, fartlek running, or track running. Even a brisk walk can work wonders to fight stress related chemicals if you are feeling sore or tired.

Each type of run has its own set of benefits, and the variation will ensure you never become bored with your running regimen. You may even want to ask around for an exercise buddy to keep you motivated, and to add an extra rewarding social element to your exercise.

Try Running Without Headphones In Nature

Some people opt to run with headphones in their ears, while others prefer to run without them. Either option is great, and the best option will depend completely on your personal preferences. Listening to music or your favorite podcast is a great way to distract yourself while running and give you the chance to focus on something separate from the run.

However, leaving the earphones out of your ears and enjoying the sounds surrounding you is a great way to be in the moment and enjoy where you are. It can be equally great to be alone with your thoughts while running, allowing your head to take you wherever it wants.

There is no “healthy way”. 

The act of running will fight anxiety and depression, no matter how you choose to pursue it.

Be Patient And Enjoy The Process

It’s important to remember that starting a new routine such as running does not happen overnight. You should be patient with yourself no matter how much you struggle at first. Take pride in the small improvements and be kind to yourself throughout the process.

Fitness is grown over time, and you will soon find yourself slowly increasing the distance with each run you embark on. To help make the new routine easier, ask a friend to join you on your runs. Running with a friend will help keep you motivated while also helping to keep you accountable.

Having a friend around when you go running will also help keep your anxiety levels and intrusive thoughts down. And it might also strengthen your relationship with your friend.

The Positive Impact of Running

Can running help with anxiety and mental health?

Yes.

Running is considered an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that can help reduce anxiety disorder drastically. The physical benefits are well documented, but anxious runners stand to gain so much more than a physical workout.

Running has considerable benefits to your mental and physical health. To allow you to consistently reap the benefits of running for your mind and body, it’s important to adopt a regular running schedule. 

Remember: Consistency is more important than intensity.

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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