Running Promises To Improve Your Mental Health


6 Min Read

Mental Health Benefits Of Running

Running makes your body release hormones like serotonin or dopamine to alleviate depression. It boosts the birth of neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain to aid learning and memory, well into your old age, and counter diseases like dementia, where the neurons stop working and die. As it enhances your attention and focus, running is a viable treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

With its health benefits ranging from improved sleep, better endurance, strength, and stamina to lowered cholesterol level and improved cardiovascular fitness, isn’t it quite obvious that running is one of the best ways to stay fit and in shape?

But does running make your mental health run too, you wonder? Well, most regular runners vouch for the fact that running has benefited them psychologically and emotionally. Scientists agree.

Science Says Running Improves Your Mental Health

When researchers at Duke University conducted a broad, population-based study to find whether there is any link between depression and physical activity, they found that active people are less depressed than the rest.1

Another study found that just 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill can lift the mood of patients suffering from major depressive disorders.2

Yet another claims that cardiorespiratory exercises, which focus on the heart and the lungs, can help people with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and/or a major depressive disorder, and reduce mortality.3

Mental Health Benefits Of Running

Feeling Stress And Depressed? Run For The Happiness Hormones

Endorphins, popularly referred to as the happiness hormones, are the body’s own way of reducing stress and pain. They are secreted in maximum quantity when your body is subjected to intense exercise, such as running, which increases blood circulation to the brain, prodding the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis into releasing the endorphins. As a result, your body deals with stress better.4

Not just endorphins, running also helps your body synthesize more of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, the deficiency of which causes depression.5 In this, running functions like antidepressants. Usually, you tend to get a mood-enhancement effect within five minutes of moderate exercising.

Trouble Focusing On Your Tasks? Run For The Catecholamines

As regular running increases the secretion of the mood-enhancing hormones like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine,6 together called the catecholamines, your attention and focus improve. Thanks to this, running is considered one of the most effective methods to reduce attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.7

Trouble Learning And Remembering? Run To Generate Neurons

Chronic stress and depression stop the birth of neurons, or neurogenesis, in the brain and shrink the hippocampus, the region in the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. This leads to cognitive deficits, where the patient has difficulty processing information and acting accordingly.8

Running does the reverse, that is, it increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus.9

If You Have Schizophrenia

Patients of schizophrenia suffer from cognitive deficits, and there are limited treatment options. Is exercise an option, asked a group of researchers, and they tested for aspects like social cognition, working memory, attention, speed of processing information, visual and verbal learning, and reasoning.

The results revealed that aerobic exercise significantly improved the first three aspects, and the more number of days they exercised, the better. They attributed this to an increase in the number of brain cells.10

If It’s Because You Are Aged

If you start running now, you’ll lower your risk for age-related cognitive decline. According to a study,11 vocabulary learning was found to be 20 percent faster after intense physical exercise.

If You Want To Prevent Dementia

With its ability to generate new nerve cells, running helps prevent neurodegenerative diseases like dementia—Alzheimer’s disease makes up about 60 to 80 percent cases of dementia—where the neurons lose their ability to function properly and eventually die.

Consistent exercise can actually bring about structural changes to your hippocampus,12 slow down neurodegeneration, and improve learning and memory retention. It can especially help the elderly population and patients of type-2 diabetes,13 who have higher risks of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Doubting Your Self-Worth? Run To Boost Your Self-Esteem

Have you noticed how difficult it is for you to focus on any task and interact with others when you are depressed or in the throes of anxiety? Soon, this starts affecting your efficiency, and you are left with low self-esteem.

Studies have claimed that being involved in vigorous physical activities like running help with all of these.14 When you run, you get fit, and that improves your self-esteem. It then serves as the basis for a more successful personal life as you start realizing that you are capable of achieving more than you give yourself credit for. Needless to say, this confidence counters your depressive symptoms.15

Started Running Yet?

Even moderate amounts of exercise can make a huge difference to your health and well being. It doesn’t matter what your age or fitness level is, use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better. Start slow. But start now.

References   [ + ]

1.Blumenthal, James A., Patrick J. Smith, and Benson M. Hoffman. “Is exercise a viable treatment for depression?.” ACSM’s health & fitness journal 16, no. 4 (2012): 14.
2.Sharma, Ashish, Vishal Madaan, and Frederick D. Petty. “Exercise for mental health.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry8, no. 2 (2006): 106.
3. Vancampfort, Davy, Simon Rosenbaum, Felipe Schuch, Philip B. Ward, Justin Richards, James Mugisha, Michel Probst, and Brendon Stubbs. “Cardiorespiratory fitness in severe mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Sports Medicine (2016): 1-10.
4.DeBoer, Lindsey B., Mark B. Powers, Angela C. Utschig, Michael W. Otto, and Jasper AJ Smits. “Exploring exercise as an avenue for the treatment of anxiety disorders.” Expert review of neurotherapeutics 12, no. 8 (2012): 1011-1022.
5. Rao, TS Sathyanarayana, M. R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, and KS Jagannatha Rao. “Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses.” Indian journal of psychiatry 50, no. 2 (2008): 77.
6. Hattori, Satoshi, Makoto Naoi, and Hitoo Nishino. “Striatal dopamine turnover during treadmill running in the rat: relation to the speed of running.” Brain research bulletin 35, no. 1 (1994): 41-49.
7.Gomes, Elisa Couto, Albená Nunes Silva, and Marta Rubino de Oliveira. “Oxidants, antioxidants, and the beneficial roles of exercise-induced production of reactive species.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity2012 (2012).
8.Sapolsky, Robert M. “Depression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98, no. 22 (2001): 12320-12322.
9. Brené, Stefan, Astrid Bjørnebekk, Elin Åberg, Aleksander A. Mathé, Lars Olson, and Martin Werme. “Running is rewarding and antidepressive.”Physiology & behavior 92, no. 1 (2007): 136-140.
10.Firth, Joseph, Brendon Stubbs, Simon Rosenbaum, Davy Vancampfort, Berend Malchow, Felipe Schuch, Rebecca Elliott, Keith H. Nuechterlein, and Alison R. Yung. “Aerobic Exercise Improves Cognitive Functioning in People With Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”Schizophrenia Bulletin (2016): sbw115.
11. Winter, Bernward, Caterina Breitenstein, Frank C. Mooren, Klaus Voelker, Manfred Fobker, Anja Lechtermann, Karsten Krueger et al. “High impact running improves learning.” Neurobiology of learning and memory 87, no. 4 (2007): 597-609.
12.Greenwood, Benjamin N., Paul V. Strong, Teresa E. Foley, and Monika Fleshner. “A behavioral analysis of the impact of voluntary physical activity on hippocampus‐dependent contextual conditioning.” Hippocampus 19, no. 10 (2009): 988-1001.
13. Bertram, Sebastian, Klara Brixius, and Christian Brinkmann. “Exercise for the diabetic brain: how physical training may help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in T2DM patients.” Endocrine (2016): 1-14.
14.Taylor, C. Barr, James F. Sallis, and Richard Needle. “The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health.” Public health reports 100, no. 2 (1985): 195.
15.Peluso, Marco Aurélio Monteiro, and Laura Helena Silveira Guerra de Andrade. “Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood.” Clinics 60, no. 1 (2005): 61-70.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.