Please note: This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Our team members talk about mental health benefits they’ve experienced from running.
Running and anxiety
“Around two years ago I started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. It was absolutely terrifying as I had never experienced mental health issues prior to this. I did research to find out what I could do to try and deal with it, and help me return to feeling some sense of normalcy. It was the middle of winter, but after trying a few other things that didn’t help, I finally decided to try running to help overcome my symptoms. I started running, and it was one of the only things I found that could almost immediately start to improve my symptoms. I used to say I would never be a runner. However, after running for a couple of years now, I have learned to love running for all its benefits for my mental health.” – Kora, Front End Developer and Product Liason, Race Roster
Running offers so much more than physical health and the enjoyment of races. Running has a positive impact on mental health and can make a positive difference in many people’s lives. It is more than a simple “endorphins make you happy” effect. Running may offer short-term and long-term approaches to treating mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, please work with a mental health specialist and nutritionist before adopting a new exercise routine.
“I used to suffer from high functioning anxiety quite regularly (you look fine on the outside but inside you are spinning out of control). Once I discovered running, I saw a change in my anxiety and feeling of control and calmness in my life more than any other physical exercise…Seven years later, running regularly keeps my anxiety down and keeps me feeling healthy and balanced. I’m hoping I can continue running for the rest of my life.” – Stephanie, UX Manager, ASICS Runkeeper
Research supports the mental health benefits of exercise, including running. A meta-analysis published in BMC Health Services Research concluded that intensity aerobic exercise (which is exactly what running is) reduces anxiety. The powerful effect of exercise on anxiety was seen in both those with diagnosed anxiety disorder and those who were experiencing elevated anxiety levels without a diagnosis. While all exercise is beneficial, high-intensity exercise had a more significant effect of lowering anxiety than low-intensity exercise. So, while walking may be an improvement, running provides more significant amelioration. (That said, any type of exercise is more effective than none at all.)
Running and depression
Similarly, research indicates that running may help those who suffer from depression. A review published in ACSMs Health Fit examined the role that exercise can play in treating depression. The researchers concluded that a consistent exercise regimen is as important as therapy and medication for those suffering from clinical depression. As with anxiety, it is not running specifically that improves the quality of life for those suffering from depression. However, running is a popular form of exercise that many cite as a treatment for their depression.
“It’s hard to be motivated when you suffer from depression and bipolar disorder. Sometimes it makes it feel impossible to be motivated to get out of bed… let alone run. But when I set up workout reminders in the app and tell myself that I only need to do 10 minutes, it suddenly becomes more doable. I will never love running, but I love how it helps improve my overall mood and helps create some consistency in my life and mind which usually feel like chaos. My immediate post-run emoji might be :( but the long-term impact emoji is :D” – Christy, Head of Brand Marketing, ASICS Runkeeper
The mental health benefits of exercise
While any type of exercise improves mental health, running offers unique benefits because it is frequently done outdoors. A study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being shows that nature enhances the psychological (and general) health benefits of exercise. Individuals who suffer from seasonal affective disorder especially may benefit from outdoor exercise, since seasonal affective disorder may be triggered by lack of vitamin D exposure.
While running does not replace medication or therapy for many individuals, exercise can have tremendous benefits as part of a treatment plan. Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or are experiencing elevated anxiety levels or a depressed mood compared to your normal, running can be one of the many tools in your toolbox to improve your mental health. You will likely feel better after completing a run—and notice that the improved mood accumulates in the long term.
More on mental health and running
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Laura had the tools in her toolbox to control her anxiety, thanks to running.