A lot of people pound the pavement or hit the treadmill to lose weight, build leg muscle, or improve cardiovascular health, but multiple studies show that running brings several mental health benefits on top of all the physical ones. As per MedicineNet, running ranks as the sixth most popular form of exercise in the United States.
Let’s take a look at how your brain responds when you run and how the exercise contributes to your mental health.
Various studies have indentified that performing aerobic exercises - mainly running, brisk walking, or jogging – on a regular basis can reduce the symptoms of clinical depression. Surprisingly, one study concluded that running was as effective for depression as psychotherapy.
When you run, the serotonin levels in your brain are boosted, thus creating a more positive mood. This creates a lasting effect and even after you complete a run, you will end up feeling mentally fresh.
Both low-impact and high-intensity running can improve your capability to learn and sustain new vocabulary and information. This was discovered per a research study undertaken by Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, which was published in 2007. The benefits seemed more distinct for high-intensity running however, both types of running increased protein BDNF levels, as well as the neurotransmitter catecholamine, both of which are largely related to the brain’s learning and cognitive functions.
One of the many mental health benefits of running also includes a sharper memory. A Brazilian study subjected lazy, elderly rats to around five minutes of treadmill running few times in a week. After a period of just five weeks, the memory core in the rats’ brains showed an increase in BDNF production, which generated memory test results that were similar to those of their younger counterparts.
As per studies presented by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, running and other dynamic types of exercise can significantly minimize the symptoms of anxiety and help your mind relax.
Running on a regular basis can greatly improve the coordination between the mind and body. Whether your run takes you over a flat, paved surface or on an uneven, rugged trail; the mind is designed to work in harmony with the body in order to prevent tripping and stumbling. Like the other psychological benefits of running, good mind-body coordination is important in daily activities and the lack of which can result in many safety concerns and health conditions.
Running is known to release endorphins in the brain, a natural chemical that makes a person happier, more awake and energetic. The term used for this phenomenon is called a “runner’s high”, where the person experiences a happy mood after running, and most will tell you that they feel gloomy when they don’t run.
An article published in Psychology Today shows how running helps regulate circadian rhythms, heighten daytime alertness and encourages deeper and quicker sleep. If you are an insomniac or someone who has sleep apnea, you should definitely give running a try.
Self-esteem is key to good mental health, and running helps improve that. Increasing endorphins, working towards a goal and getting a hot bod, all work to improve your overall confidence and self-esteem. When you look better, you feel better - and when you feel better, you are less likely to be depressed, anxious and sad.
According to Time Magazine, running acts as a barrier against the effects of aging on your mind. Researchers identified that physical exercise, such as running and similar aerobic activities were far better for an aging brain than brain games. Scans showed that performing physical exercise on a regular basis resulted in the lower cognitive decline and brain shrinkage.
Even when the ‘substance’ is a strong drug like methamphetamine, running can help the brain rehabilitate from the damage quite fast and more effectively. As per the findings published in Synapse in 2012, meth reduces the brain’s production of serotonin and dopamine and destroys their receptors. However, running can help re-stabilize the job of these two main “happiness-inducing” neurotransmitters, boosting production.
Running is not only a great way to get fit and improve your overall physical health, but it also boosts your cognitive functions and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. The next time you are feeling dull or gloomy, go for a quick run and you will return much more mentally nourished and happier.
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