There’s plenty of research and evidence that demonstrates the physical benefits of running. This exercise helps people stay fit, lose weight, and reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. A common myth states that running can hurt the knees, but even science has shown that the opposite is true! Running actually strengthens the bones and joints. A recent study out of B.Y.U. demonstrated that in participants with healthy knees, “a single half-hour of running changes the interior of the knee, reducing inflammation and lessening levels of a marker of arthritis”.
More Than Just a Runner’s High
While the physical benefits of this common exercise are clear, many don’t realize what great effects running can have on your mind. Any long-time runner will testify to experiencing a “runner’s high”, where the body receives a rush of hormones called endocannabinoids which make you feel good after a run. But there’s more that running can do for your mental health than this short-term high.
- A 2012 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that teenagers who ran for 30 minutes once a week for three weeks reported better sleep quality, mood, and concentration during the day.
- More recently, neuroscience researchers have discovered new neurons are produced daily in animals’ brains, and that vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, helped to double the amount of new neurons produced in the brains of mice.
- These new brain cells appear primarily in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is responsible for rational thinking and emotions. This reaction may explain why many people feel that running helps them to clear their heads, relieve stress and anxiety, and make important life decisions.
- While these findings suggest that running could help increase new neuron production the people’s brains, the scientists also note the importance of keeping those brain cells alive through concentrated mental activity, such as meditation.
- A study conducted by Rutgers University showed that mental and physical training, or MAP Training, which combines 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of running or other aerobic exercise, helped to decrease self-reported depressive symptoms in groups with major depressive disorder.
Letting Your Mind Run Free…or Not!
Many think of running as a good way to daydream or lose yourself in your own thoughts. In Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, writes, “I just run. I run in void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.”
However, the time you spend running can also become a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Mindful running can help you perform better by transforming negative, self-doubting thoughts into ones of positive determination. Also, by being mindful of your body after a run, noticing what aches and pains you have or knowing if you need to hydrate more, you’ll be able to recover faster from the exercise. There are some simple steps you can take to practice mindfulness during your run, including syncing up your stride and your breath, but if you need a little help, there are some mindfulness apps to get you started!
But whether you’re letting your thoughts wander into the void or counting breaths and steps, running is a great workout for your body and your mind. Put on those dusty sneakers today and move toward an overall healthier you!