benefits of running daily

Runner’s high: What it is and how running can improve your mental health

Is runner's high real? Science says it is. Read to know on how running can do wonders for your mental health.
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Have you ever felt your body becoming feather-light, the pain fading away, and the feeling of being invincible after a run? If this sounds strange to you, we are talking about the euphoria that a runner’s high brings. And if you have experienced it, have you ever wondered what’s happening inside your body that creates such a feeling?

Although exercising releases endorphins and makes you feel good, a runner’s high takes this feeling to a whole new level. When you reach that particular stage during a long-distance run, your body produces two types of chemicals—endorphins and endocannabinoids. These chemicals, when released into your central nervous system, make you feel calm as well as euphoric. A runner’s high also triggers the release of dopamine—your body’s neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure.

“Psychologically, runners may experience euphoria, a feeling of being invincible, a reduced state of discomfort or pain, and even a loss in sense of time while running,” says Jesse Pittsley, President of the American Society for Exercise Physiologists. In simple words, your body produces its own chemicals similar to a class of drugs called opioids to counteract the pain and stress of running.

A study by the University of Heidelberg suggests that the endocannabinoids released during exercise can have an impact similar to that of cannabis. While experiencing a runner’s high is one of the best ways to relax after a long run, the habit of running provides several mental health benefits too. Let’s take a look at the benefits of running.

Stress management

Both acute and chronic stress adversely affect your mental health. Acute stress is short-term and can be triggered by anything—from bumping into an old flame to losing a bet with your friend. Your brain, heart and immune system work in tandem to deal with whatever trigger that got you so worked up. On the other hand, long-term or chronic stress is worse. It is usually caused by the everyday pressures of work and family or traumatic events. If left unchecked, it can result in serious issues like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and anxiety.

One of the best ways to get rid of stress is to start running. It is an incredibly effective stress-relieving activity, which clears the mind by stimulating the release of endorphins—the ‘happiness hormone’. One benefit of running is that it’s a natural solution to the ‘flight or fight’ reaction when dealing with a complicated situation. It allows you to zone out and rebalance yourself after a stressful day.

A calmer state of mind

Running can have a hugely positive effect on your state of mind. You feel calmer because the chemicals released during and after the activity can boost your mood. Many people with anxiety have discovered that after a running session, there is a decrease in the activity of the tensed muscles. They are also less jittery and hyperactive. Running outdoors and close to nature can especially be a good antidote for anxiety and a cluttered mind, helping to attain a calmer state of mind.

Increase in productivity

An important benefit of running is that it can improve your physical health. But did you know that it can also boost your brainpower and increase your productivity? When you engage in intense running, your body releases a substantial amount of endorphins, which can help improve your ability to focus and prioritise your tasks. Moreover, you will be able to overcome fatigue and concentrate on your work better.

Enhancement of creativity

Running regularly can get those creative juices flowing. Exercises such as aerobic workouts and running stimulate the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which encourages the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. This region of the brain plays a significant role in helping you ‘come up with new ideas.’ Japanese author Haruki Murakami, an avid runner, even wrote a book titled, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running on the topic. Murakami says, “Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons.” For him, the act of running and the act of creating are inextricably linked.

A good night’s sleep

When you make running a part of your daily routine, you take a step towards a stress-free life. Running can also help improve your mood, increase your confidence, and lower symptoms of anxiety as discussed. And when you don’t experience stress, you will have no problem falling asleep. However, running too late in the day can interfere with how well you rest at night. So, it is recommended you run at least one to two hours before going to bed. This will give your endorphin levels time to wash out and the brain wind down.

Keeping depression at bay         

“Regular exercise causes the same structural changes in the brain that are thought to be behind the effectiveness of the antidepressant medication,” says Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Professor of Kinesiology at Iowa State University. Running creates the same effects through improved mood, weight control, and heart health. While many exercises can help you manage your mental health, only a few are as effective as running. Running also brings a change in one’s mindset. New solutions to old problems seem to materialise out of nowhere after a couple of miles. Also, running helps replenish the mental energy used up during depressive episodes.

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