Tuesdays Topics | Running + mental health

photo credit: Filip Mroz via Unsplash

This week, I am linking up with  Kookyrunner and Zenaida  for Tuesday Topics again and since it’s National Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re talking about how running helps with mental health.

It’s a well-known fact that running, or any other form of physical exercise, benefits our mental health. It is scientifically proven that endorphins and serotonin are released in your body when you exercise, and that these chemicals in your brain improve your mood. 

And I can attest to that; the boost in my mood after exercise, that is, not necessarily the process of chemicals that are being released. But something is obviously happening when we exercise, and you have to admit, our bodies are pretty amazing.

I have always known that exercise was not only good for the body, but good for the soul as well. I grew up with a Dad, who was a PE teacher and who always stressed the importance of exercise, not just in general, but as part of the school curriculum. He was very passionate about it and rightly so, because of the Relationship Between Physical Exercises and Students’ Academic Performance. I know lots of students dreaded PE in school, but done right, it can be a great tool not just with many physical but mental benefits for kids starting at a young age! 

But the impact of running/exercising on mental health has never been so obvious to me as during the last 2.5 years of the pandemic. I am convinced that exercise – and being able to connect with like-minded people – has been a lifesaver to my mental wellbeing. I am lucky that I have never dealt with any serious mental health issues before the pandemic, but I think everyone has felt a significant amount of stress, pressure, and overall feeling of doom in the last 2+ years. 

In a pandemic world, where we were asked to stay home for extended periods of time, where everything seemed extremely risky for a while, and where even the experts didn’t have answers, it was good to know that going for a run/walk was still possible.

We all know that getting outside, getting some vitamin D and fresh air gives you a huge mental health boost. Well, running does just that, it gets you outside. And once you get outside and interact with the world, even by just observing it on a run, perspective shifts inevitably.

Running releases stress. Maybe it’s because we step away from a stressful situation and focus on something else for a little while, maybe it’s because the repetitive motion of running calms the mind, maybe because it’s because we’re not trying to accomplish a gazillion things at once but just focus on the step in front of us, whatever it is, running helps reduce stress and helps us deal with challenging situations. I don’t know about you, but if something bothers me, I always feel better when I go for a run. When I return, I am usually much calmer and ready to tackle the problem at hand.

In turn, running makes you more resilient and boosts self-esteem. I always exercised throughout my life, but ever since I picked up running more seriously about 8 years ago and started focusing on a more regular, more structured workout routine, I have experienced a real boost in confidence and self-esteem. Improving my fitness and reaching goals has translated into feeling more resilient and capable in other areas of my life.

Running also leads to better sleep and helps us keep a regular sleep schedule. As you probably know, sleep is really important for our mental health, so this is a benefit that needs to be emphasized. I definitely sleep a lot better when I have exercised.

Last but not least, running connects you with like-minded people, and that in itself is a huge mental benefit. In a world where loneliness is on the rise, it’s so important to connect with others over a shared interest. I might be biased, but also know that others feel the same when I say that the running community is one of the best communities in the world. I feel a genuine connection to other runners and this community is so inclusive and supportive day in and day out.

Do you also feel that running/exercising is helping your mental health?

  1. Running has so many benefits, both physical & mental!

    Yes, I was one of the girls that absolutely dreaded PE. My parents were both athletic, but I didn’t inherit that gene. Although I remember once my Dad turned to my mom & said in what he thought was a whisper — who’d have though she’d be the athlete?

    That’s another beauty of running — it’s NEVER too late to start running! We all know that it’s not really as simple as they say, and yet in some ways, it really is.

    1. Yes! It’s never too late to get into an exercise routine!

  2. In the fall of 2019 (pre-pandemic!), I just let life get crazy and busy and I wasn’t working out very much and my overall mental and physical health suffered. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sleep, and I had constant spinning thoughts. Once I reprioritized movement and yoga, things got better and even though the pandemic was stressful for me, I agree with you that my exercise routine was key to how successfully I managed it. It’s so important! (Even though, I might add, I hate exercising. I still do it because I know that the consequences of not doing it are terrible.)

    1. I am sorry to hear that you hate exercising (hate is a strong word) but kudos to you for being so dedicated to the cause because you know how good it is for your overall wellbeing. I do hope that sometimes you just “dislike” and not really hate exercise. ;)

  3. It seems like we both rally figured out the link between running and mental health when Covid hit. For me, the increase in my anxiety was something I didn’t expect, so exercise was such a great way to get out of my own head.

    1. Yes, I think a lot of people realized during the pandemic what a great outlet physical activity can be (just things like going for a walk to get out of the house!).

  4. I also appreciated the mental health benefits of running and exercise more than ever the past 2 years. I don’t know what I would have done without the escape running brought me

    1. I think a lot of people, even once that never exercised before, started realizing this!

  5. While I don’t have any unusually high stresses (?) or anxiety, I definitely have much appreciation for what running and physical exercise have done for me. I usually start most days with some form of movement, and that routine sets the tone for the entire day.

    1. I am the same – I don’t have unusually high stress or anxiety, but I can definitely still feel the benefits of exercise every day!

  6. So true, San!
    I especially like that it connects me with like-minded people. I started my running blog in the autumn of 2019. I was so grateful for it during the pandemic!
    Running, writing about running and connecting with other runners across the globe – it’s the best.

    1. I love our running community so much!

  7. 100% agree. Exercise is so important for mental health, and I think that’s the thing that has kept me grounded throughout the pandemic. I did not like PE class when I was a kid, because I wasn’t good at sports, but I see what my son does in PE and I think I would like it now. It’s changed so much, the activities are so fun now!
    I exercise every day, first thing in the morning, and it sets the tone for my day.

    1. I cannot imagine that you weren’t good at sports – that must have been a very narrow impression, because look at your active self these days!!

  8. I am not currently running at all, but I did go through a pretty long phase of being a “runner” when the boys were little. I think I did my first half marathon when my youngest was 1 1/2 or 2, followed by another, then a full marathon, then a couple more half marathons. At some point, I transitioned away from running and more into strength training, but I do have fond memories of my running days! Eventually I just stopped enjoying it as much, but I can see how it is a great stress reliever for many people. Currently, I get that same feeling just from walking- not maybe the big rush of endorphins, but I so greatly enjoy the experience of being outside, walking, listening to a podcast, enjoying nature. I also love the feeling after I lift weights and my muscles feel strong and pumped and alive. So, yes, I 100% agree that exercise is so amazing!! I really hope my boys, who are very active in sports now, continue to be active forever. I think being active in youth- and you’re spot on about PE playing an important role- will hopefully instill some lifelong interests in sports/activity.

    1. Oh yes, all kinds of exercise can have this mental benefit – not just running, although I love the fact that running takes you outdoors and you can also explore new places when you run! I love that you agree on the fact that being active in youth can be such an important role for a lifelong active lifestyle!

  9. Running has helped me get through these past 3 years. Not sure how I would have handled everything that happened.

  10. This is all spot on! Running was something I didn’t even know I needed in my life. And now I don’t know what I’d do without it.

  11. I used to run, although I was pretty slow, but I loved it. There was this one summer that I interned in a city outside my home state, and I knew NO ONE and my roommate was awful. I was lonely and my job was emotionally draining. I spent most of my weekends running. I think that’s the only way I survived!

    But even now that my knee no longer allows me to run without pain, I agree that exercise is KEY to my mental health. Especially in times of stress or anxiety, when I feel like my blood is full of bees, I NEED to exercise, to wear out the bees LOL.

  12. I was another kid who absolutely hated PE, but I am not athletic so I was the last kid picked for teams/the weak link. So it didn’t make me feel very good about myself! But I came to love running as an adult and that plus other forms of exercise are very important for my mental health. I wasn’t able to run during the worst stages of the pandemic since I was pregnant and really struggled with painful flares – I so wish I could have been able to run or go for long walks as it would have helped my mental health so much! I’m glad I am back to running now, though. I run with my neighbor and we have become such great friends through running!

  13. I know that exercise is linked to my mental health but maaaan, I still hate it, lol. I am just not someone who is naturally inclined toward exercise so I have to really force myself on the spin bike or even to go out for a walk. Even though I know I will feel better and sleep better after moving my body, I still would much prefer to be lazy all the time, haha.

    I enjoyed PE as a kid. It was when I had to do the whole “changing clothes in front of everyone” of middle/high school phys ed that I started hating the whole process. Oh, and running the mile! Ugh. Hated that.

  14. Has it really been 8 years since you started doing it more seriously? Am I here. for so long already. wow.You definitely have lots of discipline doing. Or better starting it. Once you have the retinue it looks easy enough to continues – as you said so many benefits.

  15. Movement for me is essential to my mental health. Absolutely essential. The times that i have been unable to exercise / move due to medical issues have been times that my mental health has really suffered. I can’t run anymore but do get the same / similar effect from long, steady stationary bike riding. I don’t do the workouts (e.g., on Peloton) because for me it’s the zoning out that works. My brain wanders, I remember random things I need to do/get/etc., and it’s my me time. Thank you for writing about this. <3 as always. :)

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