Running and mental health: how exercise is the key to positivity

As well as getting you physically fit, running can have a positive impact on your mindset and can even change your life...

Running and mental health: how exercise is the key to positivity

Talking about it

Mental health charity Heads Together was the Virgin Money London Marathon’s Charity of the Year for 2017 and thousands of runners wore the blue Heads Together headbands during the race. The VLM’s choice of charity has helped raise awareness of the need to talk about mental health. It has also helped reinforce the positive connection between mental health and running.

The campaign was led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the Princes opening up about their own struggles following their mother’s death, in order to help overcome the stigma surrounding mental health issues in general. Other high profile celebrities including Ruby Wax, Alastair Campbell, Mark Austin and Freddie Flintoff all spoke out about their own mental health issues, in support of the Heads Together campaign.

Exercise for positivity

It’s common knowledge that running is good for your body and your general wellbeing. However, there’s more evidence emerging that it can have a positive impact on mental health too. Recent studies have shown that just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can significantly improve the emotional state of people who had been feeling negative emotions before exercising.

According to Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa from Your Doctor, 'The evidence seems to suggest that exercise eases depression and mental health disorders via the release of good brain chemicals such as endorphins. The endorphins act as a painkiller, they have an anti-inflammatory effect. It helps to make you feel more positive about things.'

Breaking the cycle

Mental health issues can leave you feeling tired, depressed and lethargic. It's a self-perpetuating problem, but breaking out of the negative cycle is the key. Just heading out of the door and raising your heart rate with some form of exercise can be enough to kick start a change.

Physically, your body undergoes changes when you run and mentally, your focus shifts. 'Your heart rate has increased, your body pumps more blood and oxygen around the brain. It stops you thinking about negative issues. When you’re running, you end up focusing on the activity and this allows you to break out of that negative cycle,' says Dr Di Cuffa.

Stress relief and self confidence

Running has also been proven to improve self-esteem and help you sleep better. Going for a run can be a great way to let off steam and relieve stress. Endurance running such as marathon training helps build self-confidence as well as providing a focal point and a tangible goal. And the feeling of achievement after completing a race or a long run cannot be underestimated.

Running and talking

Another nationwide campaign, #runandtalk is an initiative organised by England Athletics together with mental health charity Mind. It aims to improve mental wellbeing through running. The idea is to get people talking about mental health, in order to share experiences and overcome stigma.

As well as raising awareness of mental health problems, the initiative works to support those experiencing mental health problems, helping them start running, or get back into it, with the help of volunteer mentors from the running community.

Severe depression will not necessarily be cured by exercise alone. However, exercise may help when combined with other methods. Even a little exercise can work wonders. Dr Di Cuffa says, 'You will concentrate more and sleep better. Even small things like gardening, taking the stairs, walking briskly for 15 minutes or vacuuming, every little helps!'

Share your smiles!

Here at The Running Bug we want to do our bit, so we're encouraging runners to share their smiles. If you enjoy running as much as we do, simply upload a selfie with you smiling before, during or after a run (group selfies accepted!) and you could be in with a chance of winning a Garmin Forerunner every single week throughout the month of May.

To enter, simply sign in to The Running Bug, upload your selfie of choice on the Share your Smiles page and the winning snaps will be selected at random every week until the end of May.

Join now for free!

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