Statistics show that nearly a quarter of the population of the western world is prone to developing or suffering from some kind of mental health issue every year. Depression and anxiety are among the widest spread mental health problems among the adults.
While there are various types of antidepressant drugs, behavioral and cognitive therapy as well as psychological consultations available to treat most of these conditions, there are alternative ways to reduce the symptoms and help resolve problems with depression and anxiety. One proven method is regular exercise. Studies have found that exercising moderately three times a week can reduce the risk of depression by over 16%.
Many doctors and medical professionals are choosing to prescribe regular exercise and running as a form of prevention and for therapy for people with depression.
There are multiple reasons why you should choose running to help improve your mood and to benefit you mentally.
Running is free and can be done anywhere and at any time you choose. It also helps burn calories quickly and efficiently, and is an excellent cardiovascular exercise to get your body in shape and set your mind free.
Running also triggers the release of endorphins which are the hormones for happiness and for a better mood. Runners often run to experience the so-called “runners’ high” which leads them to a euphoric and elated condition, especially during long distance runs. Once again, it is the endorphins which are accountable for this natural phenomenon. This function of the human body is an excellent alternative to antidepressant drugs in cases of mild depression and bouts of anxiety.
Apart from the release of happiness hormones, running can also help improve your mood and help your mental health because it causes the following:
- Reduction of anxiety
Running and aerobic exercising lead to the reduction of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. These are the hormones related to stress and anxiety. This means that if you suffer from anxiety issues and panic attacks, engaging in regular running, cycling, jogging or other aerobic exercises could resolve the problem for you!
- Enhances social interactions
People who suffer from anxiety and depression often choose to live isolated from others mainly due to the difficulties they find handling social relations and interactions. By becoming a runner or joining the local gym, you will be prone to more interaction with other runners or members of the gym. This is especially true if you choose to join a running group, or run with a running buddy. Running will not only get you off your couch and out of the comfort of your home, but it will also improve your ability to interact with others and decrease the shyness and discomfort of communicating with others.
- Improves sleep
Depression and anxiety often walk hand in hand with Insomnia, and we all know that getting insufficient amounts of good quality sleep can harm both our physical and mental health. By engaging in regular running or workouts, your body will get into a more regular sleep-wake cycle. The body needs to rest from the running and to gather sufficient energy for the next run or workout. This is why running can help you improve your sleep and reduce the symptoms and side effects of depression and anxiety.
- Boosts the confidence
Due to the fact that you are bound to lose weight and get fitter if you start running or exercising on a regular basis, your self-confidence will definitely grow. You will start feeling better about yourself and be more inclined to communicate with other people with a higher confidence and self-esteem level too. Running will also increase your feeling of determination and resilience which too will help boost your self-esteem. Problems with self-esteem are often associated with problems with anxiety and depression, so becoming a runner can help alleviate this symptom as well.
- Increases the appetite
People who suffer from anxiety or depression often have problems both with sleeping and with eating. The loss of appetite is often one of the most common symptoms of both mental health conditions, which is why experts and doctors recommend that you start training or running on a regular basis, which will boost your appetite as your body starts needing all that necessary fuel to train, run and rebuild itself after exercise. Choose to follow a healthy, nutritional and well-balanced diet to complement your exercise and running regime and you will soon start feeling and looking much better!
- Creates a goal for you
Having specific objectives for completing positive activities for the day, week or month can help relieve and resolve depression problems. By setting your running goals, planning a monthly or weekly running or workout schedule and sticking to it, you will find yourself more motivated to meet every new day with a more positive feeling and attitude, and will help you feel more positive about yourself and your life too. By following a running program or registering for a race and engaging in regular pre-race training, you will help keep your mind engaged and your body motivated to stay active and improve yourself. This is definitely something that will make you feel better about yourself and will help improve your mood and reduce the risk or symptoms of depression or anxiety too!
- Boosts your energy levels
People suffering from anxiety or depression often feel fatigued and too tired to even get up from the couch. Regular running and workouts will help you nap out of this lethargic state. By going out for a refreshing run or workout in the morning, you will ensure that your energy level and your concentration and creativity have been boosted and will help you get through the day successfully and without too much effort.
- It improves your memory and learning skills
Running and exercising on a regular basis stimulates the production of new brain cells, which are essential for your cognitive skills and for your memory. Regular running helps develop your hippocampus which is the area in the brain responsible for memories and learning.
Overall, there is no doubt that running or engaging in other exercises on a regular basis will have a very positive effect not only on your physical health and appearance, but also on your mental health and wellbeing. If you suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, make sure you consult with your doctor and ask them before attempting to replace any antidepressant medication you may be taking. True, running and workouts can help alleviate the symptoms of these serious mental health problems, but in some cases, you may need to combine both therapy and running in order to get the best results! Anyway, try running to improve your mood, sleep, appetite, self-confidence, concentration, learning skills and to deal more successfully with the everyday stress and troubles we are all faced with!
Harvard Health Publications – Exercising to relax
D. Enette Larson-Meyer, Sonnie Palm, Aasthaa Bansal, Kathleen J. Austin, Ann Marie Hart, and Brenda M. Alexander, “Influence of Running and Walking on Hormonal Regulators of Appetite in Women,” Journal of Obesity, vol. 2012, Article ID 730409, 15 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/730409
Harvard Health Publications – Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills
Daily Morning Running for 3 Weeks Improved Sleep and Psychological Functioning in Healthy Adolescents Compared With Controls
Kalak, Nadeem et al., Journal of Adolescent Health , Volume 51 , Issue 6 , 615 – 622