We all know that running is great for our physical health, but it also has some brilliant mental health benefits too. A study published by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College in 2018 looked at 260,000 people from around the world. The study found that the most active participants were around 15% less likely to develop depression than the least active. Moreover, when people carried out 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, the risk of depression was reduced in the future by around 30%.
Let’s take a look at some more of the benefits.
Running has mood boosting effects. When you run your brain pumps out feel-good chemicals, which act as a natural pain reliever, helping you to exercise for longer periods of time. These feel-good chemicals are endorphins and endocannabinoids. A type of endocannabinoid called anandamide is found at high levels in the blood of people who have recently completed a run, and research suggests that anandamide may trigger runner’s high, releasing short term positive effects such as reducing anxiety, a feeling of euphoria and calming feelings.
Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep is deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate.
Running can help you cope with the stresses of day-to-day life, as it slows the release of stress hormones like cortisol, helping to avoid spikes in anxiety.
Regular aerobic exercise increases the size of your hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Prolonged stress can weaken the synapses between neurons, which has a negative impact on your processing power, however running keeps these connections firing. It has been found that runners brains have better-connected neural pathways than those of sedentary people.
A study comparing participants who carried out interval training running against those who led a physically active lifestyle, found that the runners showed the greatest increase in cognitive flexibility. This means the ability to switch between mental tasks quickly and efficiently.
So, if you’re in need of a pick me up, try going for a run. You won’t regret it.