Five ways that running can help reduce stress

Five ways that running can help reduce stress

The physical health benefits of running are well known to us all, but how does running help us when we are feeling stressed?

In the last 19 months, a lot of us women have taken to hitting the pavement and lacing up our trainers for the first time. As we resume back into the “new normal,” how can running help us to maintain keeping those stress levels low.

1 - Running gives a sense of community

Whether this be in an arranged running group, or online community like Running Woman, being involved in something bigger than us can help us to connect with others and reduce loneliness and isolation. Being able to share new ideas, gain support and celebrate wins as well as when times are tough, can make us gain a sense of belonging within the community.

2 - Running helps us feel better

Higher levels of endorphins are released in our brain whilst running, which is when we experience that ‘runner’s highs’ that we all love! After-all, the run itself can sometimes feel like we are running through treacle, so this feel-good hormone can help us to stay motivated to do it all again. Running can also help us maintain more stability in our levels of stress as it slows down the release of the stress hormone cortisol. This can reduce those times when we feel irritable (picking the towel up off the floor for the 20th time!) and overwhelmed and help us to improve the way we react to stressful situations.

3 - Running can give us a break

Whether it be working in the office, looking after our families, or trying to juggle the two, we all need some time out for ourselves to function at our best. Running
can allow us to get out in the fresh air and turn down the volume of our internal chatter. By choosing to be mindful of our feet meeting the pavement, our environment, and the sounds we can hear we can calm our minds and gain more clarity.

4 - Running can change the way we think

When we are feeling stressed our thoughts can get stuck in a negative cycle, predicting the worst and making us feel defeated. Through setting and achieving running goals, whether it be a 5km parkrun or a 300km target for the month (we all love a RW medal!), we gain a sense of achievement. Each time we do this, our brain recognises this victory, leading us to acknowledge that success is an option. The more we achieve the more our mind starts to believe that future events will be a success. This allows us to manage our stress better as we start to think in a more positive way.

5 - Running can change our brain functioning

When we are stressed, the area of our brain that controls our decision making; the prefrontal cortex, does not function so effectively. This can lead to confusion, frustration, and burnout. Running stimulates this part of the brain, enabling us to plan and make decisions with more ease. By doing this, we can think more clearly and find solutions to the stressful situations that our brain was struggling to solve when fatigued.

Dr Sarah Berger

This article was written by Dr Sarah Berger, Senior Clinical Psychologist, co-owner of Stressed Out to Feeling Fabulous & long standing member of the Running Woman community

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