Born to Run: Mental Benefits of Running

Benefits of Running

After feeling so pent-up inside for so long, people may actually want to start running – for a long time : ). Now is a good time ro consider it, though not as an escape but as happy, healthy exercise.

When people think about running, they often think of time, pace and distance. However, for the average runner, the activity is a great way to exercise your mind as well as your body. By tailoring a running program to improve your mental health you can be more motivated, more consistent and generally happier!

Focus on how running makes you feel

Too often we can feel pressured by ourselves or others to run a certain distance or at a certain pace. In order to get the most out of your running program you should let the numbers take a backseat role and focus on the way exercise makes you feel.

Exercise such as running causes your body to release endorphins. These endorphins have a profound impact on your mindset, creating a positive feeling in the body to help improve your outlook and give you a sense of achievement.

By shifting your focus from chasing a particular time or distance, to chasing this feeling of accomplishment and improved self-esteem you can keep your motivation high regardless of the pace and distance you are running.

This is not to say that you should not set goals if that is what helps to motivate you, but by checking your quantitative progress less frequently you can help prevent periods of de-motivation and allow yourself to focus on the positive impacts on your mind and body. 

Run to control your stress and anxiety

The endorphins we produce and the positive feeling they give us help to combat negative thoughts of stress and anxiety we may be feeling. In times when you feel particularly stressed or anxious, going for a run can help to clear your head and facilitate a positive outlook. While it can be difficult to start a run in this mindset, by focussing on the way you will feel when you have completed a run you can help get over the most difficult hurdle – getting started.

One of the most important aspects in maintaining positivity is good quality sleep. Exercise contributes directly to improving sleep quality which in turn has a beneficial impact on your mood. Exercise contributes to the quality and length of sleep; it helps to boost the amount of time you spend in deep sleep which allows your body to control stress and anxiety more effectively. 

Running is also a form of exercise that affords you the opportunity to get outside and encounter nature. Many studies have linked psychological wellbeing to increased time spent in nature. Running outdoors is a fantastic way to get exercise and engage with the natural world at the same time. If you are someone who loves nature and enjoys the outdoors, then running is a great activity to combine exercise with something you already enjoy.

Start off slow 

One of the most crucial aspects for someone who’s just starting a running program is to start off slow. One of the main pitfalls is attempting to run too far, too soon, and in turn becoming disillusioned with the process. If you set yourself unrealistic targets there is a danger that this can lead to demotivation when you are unable to reach these targets. 

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to set out at a comfortable pace and to avoid any pressure on yourself to run at a certain pace or a certain distance. Start out by running slowly and if you feel you need to, slow to a walk and take frequent breaks. 

By starting out this way you can view the process as a progression rather than through a pass/fail perspective, whereby there is a danger you can convince yourself that running is something you cannot do. 

Running is an activity that almost anyone can do, all you need is a good pair of shoes and a positive attitude to start. If you want to make running a habit and a hobby, then start off slowly, you’ll see your progression more clearly and enjoy the process from day one.


Benefits of Running, Born to Run: Mental Benefits of Running


Ensure sensible use of goals and targets

As previously mentioned, many see the setting of goals and targets as an important part of their own progression. Using goals and targets can be a useful tool in mapping progress but there are some things to consider in helping avoid the possibility of demotivation or negativity. 

A good way to use targets to your advantage is to set targets for your mental health rather than times or distances. Set out to improve your mindset and track how you feel, perhaps keeping a note of when you exercised and how it made you feel. This will also help you to work exercise into your routine consistently and help you understand when the best time is for you to exercise and how to get the most out of your runs.

There are plenty of apps out there that allow you to track your runs and they provide a wide array of metrics such as distance, pace and an estimate of calories burnt. For some people these measures will be important, but they are not for everyone. Avoid comparing yourself to other individuals and keep your end goal of better mental health at the forefront of your mind.

Inevitably there is an association between running and racing but this does not have to be the case for everyone. By viewing these two activities separately you can create a program that is tailored and specific to you.

The most important thing to remember is that running should make you feel positive, happy and give you a sense of achievement. If at any stage, you lose sight of these three feelings you should reassess your program. Go back to basics and ask yourself why you run and what you want to achieve. Running has the potential to make you feel fantastic and while it does that it gives you all sorts of other health benefits. So, make sure you do it your way and don’t forget why you started in the first place.


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