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Run your way to wellbeing

When Japanese writer Haruki Murakami decided to devote his life to writing, he began running in order to keep himself fit. His memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a detailed account of his preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon. In it, he writes a passage highlighting the reasons many take up running: “People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life–and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.”

Murakami is right. In fact, living life to the fullest is a mantra most of us swear by. Running helps us with this. It is not very surprising given that man has been a runner since his caveman days. The early man is known to have developed a technique called persistence hunting. It is a strategy where the hunter–who is relatively slower than the prey–chases the prey by walking and running until the prey is exhausted, before going for the kill. Eventually, this technique became an inherent life skill.

Today, the scenario is different; we don’t live in a time where we chase prey for food. But running continues to be an integral part of our lives. For many of us, running is a daily activity which helps maintain our general wellbeing.

Many avid runners experience a sense of euphoria when they push themselves to the point of collapse. Scientific studies have found that this happens due to the release of endorphins in the brain. A study suggests endorphins are responsible for creating the relaxed psychological state known as ‘runner’s high’.

No wonder many runners experience a sense of elation upon completing their run. Bangalore-based athlete Reeth Abraham can relate to this well. She says, “Running, especially in the morning, makes you feel energetic throughout the day. It’s a high that is better experienced than described.”

As much as running can make an individual more goal-oriented, it can also teach one to savour the present moment. For instance, sprinting across a park can help one let go of worries and just focus on each step.

This high, as Reeth describes it, is in fact, one of the top motivating factors for people to take up running. Studies on running have revealed myriad benefits. One such research, conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine, reveals that running regularly slows the effects of ageing. When the study began in 1984, many scientists were of the opinion that a vigorous exercise like running would do more harm than good to older people. However, the results proved otherwise. The elderly who took up regular running had fewer disabilities and longer span of active life.

Young or old, all of us are prone to ailments, both physical and mental. Researches reveal that aerobic exercises like running can help people suffering from mental ailments. A study conducted to understand how physical exercise affects mental health has proven that running can be suggested as a strategy to manage depression, along with other psychotherapeutic treatments.

We don’t have to be ailing from a mental condition in order to benefit from running. Running can help us manage day-to-day situations with a calm, stress-free mind. It is also known to motivate people to be more goal-oriented. When we set a finish line for every run and make sure we hit it, the process gradually trains the mind to function as a go-getter, reflecting in other areas of life as well.

As much as running can make an individual more goal-oriented, it can also teach one to savour the present moment. For instance, sprinting across a park can help one let go of worries and just focus on each step. By getting us to concentrate on the present, running can aid us in letting go of the past and the future.

We might not often think of it this way, but life can indeed change between the starting point and the finish line. Running can not only boost the immune system, slow down ageing, and treat depression, but also teach us a lesson or two about life along the way. With just the act of putting one foot in front of the other, running brings not only the body and mind on track, but also the spirit.


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