Running can work wonders for our mental health. Here, a fitness expert explains how, and gives us her top tips on making the best of running as a mood-boosting exercise.
I think it’s safe to say that this hasn’t been the easiest year for most of us. The Covid-19 pandemic that ground everything to a halt back in March is still causing disruption across the world, and lockdown measures continue to restrict who we can see and where we can go. All in all, it hasn’t been a great year, particularly for those who struggle with mental health.
But thankfully, some people have found a saving grace in amongst the madness: running. In fact, a study conducted by Asics in June recorded a major activity surge during the pandemic, and in particular a massive increase in people running as a means of managing their mental health. In the UK alone, 82% of runners said they were running to help clear their minds, while 78% said that running was helping them feel more in control.
How is it that running can have such immense benefits and make such a difference to our anxiety or low mood? And are there any ways to make it even better for us? We asked personal trainer and founder of The Athlete Method Kerry Dixon for the answers.
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How does running benefit your mental health?
Running is a great form of exercise that comes with plenty of physical benefits, ranging from boosting cardiovascular health to improving strength. And, with all the physical benefits come the mental, with the exertion and sense of achievement you get from a good run causing a rush of endorphins, also known as your happy hormones, and boosting self-esteem. We explored exactly why you feel so good after exercising, and it’s definitely worth revisiting.
As Kerry explains, “once you feel these benefits each time you run, you’ll want to repeat those positive feelings”. This not only works wonders for your mental health, but also for your motivation, which can all too often take a hit when you’re feeling low.
How often do you need to run to see the benefits?
How often you should run really depends on whether you’re working towards something specific. If you’re striving for a new PB or aiming to run longer distances, then your regime will likely be more stringent than someone who runs purely for pleasure.
Regardless of your reasons for running, Kerry says that it’s a really positive habit to get into, and you should feel the short-term benefits even if you run just once a week. For long-term mental health management, though, she recommends two to three times a week as a general guide. This consistent boost to your endorphins, coupled with the feel-good factor of having completed another run, will help to keep your spirits up over longer periods.
What is mindful running and how do you do it?
Mindful running is “all about being in tune with your body, focusing on how it feels as you run, and disconnecting from your daily distractions”, says Kerry. So, while getting out of your own head might not always feel like the easiest thing to do, by mindful running you can shift your focus to your body and technique, and allow yourself to really enjoy the experience.
Getting out in nature, taking in your surroundings, and even leaving your headphones at home are all things Kerry recommends you do if you want to make the most of a mindful run. They will allow you to appreciate the world around you and unplug from your problems, giving you the headspace you need to improve your mood.
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Mindful breathing, too, is a great way of connecting to your body and switching off your stresses, and it can be done either before, during or after your run. All it requires you do is “take deep, slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth”. If you want, you can also try placing your hand on your diaphragm while you breathe, “to feel the inflation of the air before you exhale”. This will help you to keep your focus trained on your body, calm your mind, and cultivate a positive mindset for your run.
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