4 ways running can help your mental health
You don’t have to be part of the FitBit elite to reap the benefits of hitting the pavement.
In fact, studies have shown that exercise can have far better perks than beefing up your quads; it can be an effective tool when it comes to battling mental health issues.
It can even help in the most left-field, smack-you-in-the-gut circumstances. Testament to that is Eddy Clarkson. Eddy was in his second year of university when he found out what he initially thought was “an awful cold and sickness” was actually Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. He found that running helped relieve his anxiety about his illness and his outlook was so inspiring that ASICS teamed up with him as part of their I MOVE ME campaign to encourage people to find a reason to run.
“When you have cancer, you are surrounded by cancer and cancer becomes your life," explains Eddy. "I was given a 50/50 chance of the cancer coming back, literally the flip of a coin. This statistic occupied my mind constantly, pushing out almost all of my positive thoughts.”
Eddy turned to running to help regain a sense of freedom. “Running gave me a different outlook on life, the sense of self-belief I needed. Post treatment, my anxiety was very bad. I didn’t like leaving the house; I was a germaphobe and was reluctant to see my friends. However, once I started training, my outlook changed.
“Instead of visualising these phobias as weaknesses, I saw them as challenges. Running changed my mind-set and most importantly, gave me my confidence back."
Running was a huge part of Eddy's recovery and his competitive streak only fuelled his fire. Setting himself 'crazy goals', Eddy broke them down into smaller, manageable steps to get to the big dream.
"I still use this method to drive my progress and ensure that I succeed at the bigger challenges that I set myself. I believe if you can visualise the end goal, disregarding whatever your current position might be, then it's achievable. Running will always be my cure."
So whether you’re dealing with anxiety or just need the kind of mental focus that only comes with struggling to breathe, breaking a sweat can help. We spoke to Dr Elena Touroni, Clinic Director and Consultant Psychologist at The Chelsea Psychology Clinic to let you know how exactly running can benefit your brain.
1. Reduces stress
If you’re stressing out over life you probably don’t feel like hitting the pavement, but running can be your new ally.
“Stress and anxiety can manifest themselves in a range of physical symptoms including tension, difficulties with sleep and rumination on negative thoughts," explains Dr Tourini. "Running can help with relaxation, decrease worry, anxiety and negative thinking cycles.”
2. Combats depression
Depression can have the tendency to make you feel sluggish and withdrawn, so going for a run may not be the most appealing. However research has shown that lacing up your ASICS GEL-NIMBUS 20 and going for that run can help manage the symptoms of depression.
"If you have ever been depressed then you will know that depression is a state of mind that is characterised by negative thoughts about oneself, negative predictions about the future and an overall lack of desire to engage with the world," says Dr Tourini.
"When we are depressed we withdraw from life and do not wish to engage in much physical activity. Acting opposite to emotion is a powerful way to exit this negative cycle and running could be a key activity in achieving this. In fact, research has shown that aerobic exercise can be as effective for depression as some forms of psychological therapy."
3. Helps you get a better night’s sleep
Nothing is more frustrating than lying in bed trying to induce yourself into a state of sleep only to end up watching the hours vanish before your eyes. Chances are you feel ready to catch eight hours when Jeff from marketing is giving you the minute-by-minute rundown of what went down at his niece's birthday party over the weekend. But as soon as you want to go to sleep nothing comes.
“Intense physical activity has a very positive impact on alleviating one of the key symptoms of mental disorders – the inability to sleep," notes Dr Tourini. "Sleep is often seen as a barometer of our emotional wellbeing; when we are anxious or depressed we often struggle with sleep. Running can help regulate circadian rhythms which in turn help us achieve longer and more restful sleep.”
4. Increases mindfulness
Mindfulness might be one of those words you automatically tune out of these days, but the ability to focus your mind on the present instead of letting it play out a montage of your most awkward moments of the week is important.
“Running is an activity that can be done mindfully with full intention," says Dr Tourini. "This can help us connect with our physical self and refocus our attention on our body rather than unhelpful thoughts and rumination that can often lead to intensely negative feelings.”