I’ve been running more or less consistently for over a year now and the effect it has had on
my mental health has been amazing. I honestly never thought that I’d be that kind of person who enjoyed exercise or who willingly put on my running gear and laced up my trainers to go for a run, because I’ll know I’ll feel better afterwards.
If you followed along with my Couch to 5K journey, then you’ll know the ups and downs I went through whilst learning to run over the course of 9 weeks. By the end of my last run I knew that this was something I’d want to continue after graduation.
Learning to run slowly and surely was definitely the way to go and although this was my second time starting the Couch to 5K, I knew that this time it would stick because of how running made me feel. There are so many other runners live in Harrogate – it’s kind of infectious seeing other runners out there whilst you’re inside clearly NOT running!
The Benefits Of Exercise
“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal".
It doesn’t matter how good or bad I’m feeling before a run, I will always, ALWAYS, feel better afterwards. Both mentally and physically for sure. I could be lying on the sofa, mustering up the motivation to put on my gear and lace up my trainers, but by the time I get back, I’ll be absolutely buzzing and so pleased that I went, no matter what happened on the run itself.
When I’m doing a longer run, I can find myself in a groove and it feels so good because I’m not constantly thinking about running or how to actually GET into that groove! My mood always lifts when I manage to overcome obstacles during a run – I’ve been finding this more and more the deeper I get into my half marathon training.
The very fact that I can now ‘easily’ go for longer and longer runs without dropping dead astounds me and makes me wonder what else can I do? How much further can I push my body? Knowing that I can, at least, run 10 miles/16.1K helps give me confidence going forward towards my half marathons.
That in itself makes me feel confident about my running and that I’m a) doing the best I can and b) I’m running it the right way because I’m able to finish and actually NOT feel completely dead afterwards! Plus, it’s only another 3 miles to complete half marathon distance so really, I KNOW I’m ready, willing and able to do this! (Which in itself does good things for my mental health!)
How I Stay Motivated
One of the questions anyone who exercises regularly gets asked is usually, how do you keep yourself motivated? And sometimes it’s just as easy to not go for a run, as it is to go for one. Even a quick 20 minute run can be as difficult to find motivation for as a 10 mile run can be.
The way I look at it, is that I know I’ll always feel better afterwards. Even after a 20 minute run, the very fact that I got up, put on my gear, laced up my trainers and crossed another starting line, pays dividends further down the line. It’s usually the very thing that can push me to get out when I don’t really want to go!
It can be a vicious cycle if you let it. That one day you don’t get out, leads to another missed run, leads to you feeling like there’s no point in going for another run because you’ve already missed X amount so it’ll not matter if I don’t go today...and on and on it goes.
So I much prefer to just go for a run rather than not. The run might suck, but at least I went and that has to count for something.
Changing My Mindset Around Exercise
If you grew up in the 90’s or early 2000s then you’ll probably be familiar with how horrid diet culture was and how exercise was seen as punishment for the food you ate, rather than having anything to do with benefiting your mental health.
In fact, mental health/wellness wasn’t even something that was mentioned or even really known about.
So you can imagine how much of a turnaround it is for me to actually enjoy exercise and see it as both a preventative and cure-all for your overall mental, physical and emotional health and wellness.
It’s taken a lot of un-learning on my part to have positive associations with movement and exercise in general, to view it as something that adds to my life, instead of taking a part of me away.
Before I started running, I’d heard of the so called ‘runners high’ where runners experience a deeply relaxing state of euphoria which usually occurs after intense or lengthy exercise. Research has revealed that the molecules responsible are called endocannabinoids, which act on your endocannabinoid system, the same system that’s affected by the active compound in cannabis!
Exploring The ‘Runner’s High’
Like endorphins, exercise releases endocannabinoids into the blood stream, if you feel euphoric or deeply relaxed after a run, these molecules may be the responsible party. Endorphins are not responsible for the ‘runners high’ because these molecules cannot cross over into your brain which means something else must be responsible for it.
A type of endocannabinoid called anandamide is found at high levels in the blood of people who’ve recently completed a run. Some research suggests anandamide may trigger a runner’s high, the results in short term psychoactive effects like reduced anxiety, euphoria and a feeling of calm.
“It’s a short lasting feeling of euphoria or bliss that occurs after exercise or running. Those who do experience it may find themselves exercising to chase that exquisite feeling.”
A runner’s high is not a guarantee for everyone who laces up and takes off to pound the pavements, other benefits are more likely and just as beneficial in many ways. Some of the most common benefits of running include:
Reduced feelings of depression
Increased memory and focus
Increased flexibility and mobility
Increased immune system
Improved response to insulin
Weight loss or maintenance
I don’t get this feeling after every run, but when I do, boy is it addictive. It makes me want
to go running again to see if I can find it!
Sometimes I can feel as if I’m flying on a run, like I could actually run 5K in 30 minutes, which is something I’ve been chasing since graduating from the Couch to 5K training programme!
On those runs I feel strong, powerful and that anything is possible, like I could go on for miles. It’s an amazing feeling and definitely makes up for all of those sucky runs!
I honestly can’t thank running enough for allowing me to find something which allows me
to find freedom and the space to get away from everyday life. It really is the only time I
ever feel free.