Running is a form of aerobic exercise, or “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.” Aerobic exercise, like running, increases the body’s heart rate and its use of oxygen in response to a movement’s energetic demands. Along with many well-established physical benefits, like cardiovascular fitness, decreased blood pressure, and weight management, this kind of exercise does wonders for our mind. And with stress levels higher than ever for U.S. adults… We’re in need of solutions.
When we lace up our shoes, hit the trail, and turn up the pace, our body starts experiencing a form of “healthy stress.” In response to this stress, our brain releases endorphins, AKA the feel-good hormones everyone knows and loves. But it also releases endocannabinoids, like anandamide (the “bliss” chemical) and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. In other words, while you’re counting mile markers, your brain is at work mixing up a chemical cocktail that leaves you in a better mood.
Studies have shown that generally speaking, runners have reported lower levels of depression and anxiety, and higher levels of psychological well-being. Even individuals who are new to running have noted mental benefits like, “relief of tension, improved self-image, and better mood.” And even further, these benefits seem to extend far beyond the famed runner’s high: Research indicates that aerobic fitness (like running) has beneficial, long-term effects on our mental state.