[This is a guest?editorial by Ryan Rivera, B.Ed., who took up running and has found that it's tremendously helped him with his mental and physical health. He's felt so empowered and excited by how much running has helped him, that he started a website, www.calmclinic.com,?with lots of great information on how to cope with ~anxiety, depression, stress, and panic disorder.
I previously?blogged about how simply changing my mindset back in 2003 towards "Running for stress relief", I found myself running slower, more relaxed, and carefree-- my?performances started to take off thereafter. Definitely, not just the 'act' of running, but how you approach running and your mindset, can have a HUGE impact on your performance and overall health.]
It seems that every other article online is about how important it is to improve your fitness. We?re a culture that has become more and more inactive over the past several decades, and when it comes to things that people care about (living longer, reducing the signs of aging, etc.), one of the first things that people need to change is their fitness habits.
But fitness alone doesn?t appear to be enough of a motivator. Indeed, experts have been trying to get people to focus on fitness for years with little success. Most people simply do not seem to care about being in better shape ? or at least, they do not care about the idea of running or staying active in order to generate that fitness.
Yet while people may not seem to care about improving their physical health, many, many people care about improving their mental health. Living with stress and anxiety makes it very difficult to enjoy your life, and many people seek out a slew of different treatments in order to calm their mind and body. What?s interesting, however, is that one of the best cures for anxiety and stress may be the very thing that people have been trying to avoid ? regular, daily running.
Running?s Effect on Anxiety
For both fitness and mental health, the first week of running isn?t that beneficial. Your body is not used to running and usually finds the first week somewhat of a chore. But once you get into a rhythm and get over the initial adaptation period, you?ll find that running has incredible benefits for your mental health. These include:
Endorphins are the body?s natural drug and pain killer. When you?re laughing or in a great mood, your body releases a small amount of endorphins to make you feel good. When you run, your body releases a hefty amount of these neurotransmitters. It does this so that your legs and muscles don?t hurt as much when you run, but for those suffering from stress and anxiety, these endorphins can drastically improve your mood, making your mind and body feel genuinely good, as though nothing at all is wrong. This effect is very real, and is known casually as the ?runner?s high,? because the feeling mimics that of many illegal drugs. The key to reaching the runner?s high is to train consistently, slow enough, and long enough, letting running ?feel good?, rather than trudging and pushing the pace.
Stress and anxiety release cortisol, a hormone that is extremely damaging to the body. Cortisol causes weight gain and ill health, memory loss, and the feeling of malaise that makes living with stress and anxiety so irritating. Low intensity running reduces one?s overall cortisol level, and as a result it reduces many of the ill effects of cortisol for a long period of time after completing a run. This is good for your physical health, but also very, very good for your mental health.
Your mind and body are forever connected. When your muscles are tense, you?re more likely to have tense thoughts and feel unease during the day. When your muscles are tired, they?re more relaxed, and this carries over to a more relaxed mind-state. Running ensures that you don?t have that extra energy that creates and leads to more muscle tension. For those who are very inactive during the day, 15 to 30 minutes of jogging is a great solution.
Running is one of the few times during the day when you?re free of distractions. You simply breathe in the fresh air and enjoy your surroundings. This time can be very calming, which is important for those whose busy schedules cause them a great deal of stress throughout the day.
Finally, when you run you tend to sleep better. This is partially due to the benefits above, including endorphins and tired muscles, but sleep itself is beneficial as well. The more you sleep, the more your body finds coping with stress and anxiety to be much easier. Since many people with stress struggle to sleep, ultimately leading to more stress the next day, running can be a valuable activity.
Putting On Your Running Shoes
If you?re generally happy, it?s understandable that you may not want to be as active as you can be, no matter how much better it is for your health. But if you?re suffering from anxiety and stress, there?s no reason to turn down such a healthy and effective solution. Running really is an immensely valuable way to improve your mental health and something that everyone suffering from stress and anxiety should try.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera, B.Ed.,?was consistently tense before taking up running and relaxing his mind and body. Now he writes about stress and anxiety at www.calmclinic.com.