As World Mental Health Day approaches, it’s a good time to highlight the role running can play beyond the pure physical benefits.
Running has become a go-to activity for people seeking better mental health and with good reason. There are scientific, social and psychological reasons why running helps millions be happier and healthier.
The release of endorphins from running to create a natural post-run 'high' is well-documented. But there are also benefits from the release of hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals that people with depression lack.
Furthermore, running stimulates the brain’s frontal cortex, the area responsible for decision-making and reasoning. People suffering depression usually have reduced activity and suffer from negative reoccurring thoughts and worry. Stimulating this can break the cycle. Runners often find solutions to problems on a run.
A lack of motivation and an inability to concentrate are two common symptoms of depression. Both are controlled by the hippocampus in the brain. People suffering with mental health have a shrunken hippocampus and it can impact their motivation and inability to concentrate. However, running can help enlarge a shrunken hippocampus and provide a subsequent surge in positivity.
On a social level, running also has tremendous benefits. On the face of it, running is an individual sport. But in training and at events, there is a shared sense of purpose that creates an immediate bond between runners, building affinities and often, friendships.
Running also brings a unique freedom that is unmatched by other activities. With a pair of trainers and a running kit, the world can be your oyster. Trails, coastlines, moors, forests and mountains…running can take you to them all.
There is now increasing evidence over the psychological importance for people to connect with nature for happiness. It can also really help with mindfulness, an increasingly regarded state of mind in a busier, noisier world full of distractions.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment and bring great calm to the mind. The rhythm of running and the connection with the surrounding environment lends itself perfectly to mindfulness.
World Mental Health Day takes place on 10 October and a run is the perfect way to mark the occasion.