How does running help your mental health?

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Your mental health is a journey, not a destination. Just like physical health, we all have good periods and not-so-good periods.

Currently, 1 in 3 visits to the GP are thought to be mental health related, and 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem over the course of a year. It’s perfectly normal to not feel OK; the important thing is that we recognise it and take steps to keep our mental health on track.

As an activity that gets you outside, moving your body, closer to nature and potentially spending more time with like-minded people, running is a fantastic way to keep your spirits up and your mind focused.

But don’t just take our word for it – here are five scientific studies that prove there’s plenty of reasons to lace up and let go of your worries.

1) Green spaces = great mental health

Lots of studies sing the praises of being outdoors: scientists have found they make us more resilient against stress as well as improving brain function and memory. However, it turns out that exercising in green spaces has an even bigger mental health boost. In 2013, a study found that those who exercise in natural environments once a week are at about half the risk of poor mental health as those that don’t.

Even more reason to head down to the canal, the park or the countryside!

2) Banish brain fog

Feel like you can’t focus? Struggle making decisions? Or just can’t see the wood for the trees? Brain fog can be a sign that your mental health has taken a dip, but running could be your fast track to mental clarity.

One study showed that participants were more focused, more confident in making important decisions and problem solving after sprint training.

And your stamina isn’t the only thing that increases with running – your brain does, too. Literally – studies show runners have a bigger volume hippocampus – the part of the brain associated with memory and learning – than non-runners.

3) Confidence

Ah, confidence – when our mental health plummets, it becomes difficult to find – or even fake it.

A 2014 Sport in Mind study , however, showed that a whopping 92% of a group reporting poor mental health felt an increase in confidence after engaging in a programme of physical activity.

Maybe part of this massive rise was down to the fact that 87% of the group also reported healthy weight loss, and 77% said they were spending more time in social situations – or maybe it’s just that being active is *amazing*.

4) Runner’s High

Many runners report feeling on a high after a run, and it’s that promised euphoria that motivates them to lace up even on dark, cold mornings and rainy nights.

Often, runner’s high is put down to a rush of post-exercise endorphins, but scientists suggest that it’s actually more likely down to the body’s production of endocannabinoids – a biochemical produced naturally in the body with a similar effect to cannabis.

Unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can move from the bloodstream to the brain, making you feel less anxious, calmer and relaxed. Yes please and thank you!

5) Social boost

Finally, a number of studies point to running with friends being particularly positive for your mental health.

One 2022 report suggests that running with other people encourages us to stay consistent and enjoy the physical and mental benefits of running over a long period of time. Another study suggested that running with others at a big sporting event provided an emotional high and an opportunity to have fun – and that this was important to most runners, but particularly women.

Emotional highs and having fun? We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Find a Great Run near you here: Browse all events.

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