Running therapy: lace up to boost mental health

running therapy
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Running affects your mood

running therapyDo you lace up to feel better? Studies show that aerobic exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression. Not to mention, with side effects such as improved health and weight management rather than the bloating and sexual dysfunction associated with pharmaceuticals. Running therapy is the first-line treatment for depression in Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands. The US is a little slower on updating their guidelines. How does moving the body change the mind? It’s actually more than just endorphins. The emerging view of running’s ability to improve mental health also takes into account long-term structural changes in the brain as well as subjective states like mood and cognition. Science continues working to explain the theory behind what we runners already know from practice.

Running changes how you think

In any one year, about 10 percent of the US population would meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, and about 20 percent for anxiety. The incidence of these conditions in runners is likely similar. A 2017 review of research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found no difference in depressive symptoms between what researchers called “high-performance athletes” and non-athletes. All levels of runners are affected. But running helps you think and process things differently. It helps you think objectively. For me, it helps me realize that things I think are a huge deal aren’t in the scheme of things. When you focus on accomplishing a task like a 4 mile run, it kicks off a positive feedback loop that continues throughout the run and takes our thinking and emotions out of the trench of negativity.

Running therapy for everyone

You don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner to get the benefits of running. But research does show an added benefit to those who regularly run and/or exercise. The mood improvement and energy boost is higher for those who normally workout. This is because runners can hold a good pace for a long time without going anaerobic, allowing for the physiological processes that lead to improved mood, according to Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Ph. D., a professor at Iowa State University who is a leading figure in the field of exercise physiology. “If you’re a regular runner, you have the cardiorespiratory fitness to sustain an exercise intensity that’s associated with a feel-better effect.” Anyone can become a regular runner by simply adding in running or cardio workouts three times a week.

Do you run? Does it help you feel better?

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