We already know that running can help us to lose weight and can help to prevent diseases, but it can also serve as a healthy way to manage stress. With each run, our bodies release feel-good endorphins, improving our mood, and boosting our self-confidence. It also distracts our mind from negative thoughts, allowing us to confront difficult emotions.
Here are five reasons why adding running to your workout routine may help reduce anxiety:
Running helps you relax
Negative thoughts involve two areas of your brain: the prefrontal cortex, which controls attention and focus, and the hippocampus, which promotes learning and memory. Physical activity has been shown to encourage the growth of new brain cells. And the simultaneous release of endorphins can help ease anxious feelings, too.
The physical stress of exercise blocks pain signals in the body, prompts an influx of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, and basically reorganizes your brain.
Running can be a healthy coping mechanism
When stress hits, most people reach for unhealthy fixes: an alcoholic drink, comfort food, or hours of television. Running, though, can lift your mood in a similar way, while also giving you a mental and physical escape from stressful situations.
Getting outside might provide the most bang for your buck. One study of outdoor walkers reported a decrease in anxious, ruminating thoughts. Their brain scans also showed decreased neural activity in the part of the brain associated with mental illness.
That said, be sure to also find other ways to manage your anxiety, too. Too much running could potentially lead to over-exercising. “Anxiety can also make you feel compelled to work out, or work out for longer than normal,” says psychotherapist Greta Angert, M.S., LMFT.
It’s entirely possible your anxiety symptoms will persist despite regular exercise. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional to find the best options and outlets for you.
Your “fight-or-flight” skills improve
People who experience anxiety often talk about common symptoms, such as sweating and increased heart rate. These are similar to the types of physical reactions produced by the body during exercise. Some researchers view working out as a form of “exposure treatment,” where individuals prone to anxiety can practice reacting to fight-or-flight sensations. In other words, running can help biologically “toughen up” your brain.
Another study suggests runners are simply less susceptible to stress. Runners can better observe negative feelings that pop up, and then find a way to quell them.
You can practice intentional breathing
Meditation is known to make exercise more effective, and intentional breathing plays a critical role. No surprise, then, that running can also help lower stress levels because of its emphasis on proper breathwork.
You’re part of the running community
Anxiety can cause some people to feel alone. As a runner, though, you’re already part of a big community. Making connections with other runners can equip you with like-minded individuals willing to support you with each run or race. Find a local running buddy or join a running group!
Article Credit – Julia Dellitt, Jaime McFaden, Jennifer Giamo (www.aaptiv.com/magazine/running-and-anxiety)