Benefits of running to your mental health – by Hayley Jarvis

Hayley Jarvis, Head of Physical Activity at Mind, shares with us the all-important benefits of running to our mental health. In her spare time, Hayley is a mental health advocate and a peer volunteer/run leader for Dudley Mind.

We’re all aware of the physical health benefits of being active including reduced risk of diseases, healthier bones and organs. It also supports us to maintain a healthier weight – to fit into those jeans or that fancy black dress. But until recently the mental health benefits of physical activity were largely overlooked, until three campaigns changed the landscape:

  • Heads Together is a campaign spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry which aims to change the national conversation on mental health from one of stigma and fear to one of support.
  • England Athletics launched #runandtalk – actively encouraging clubs and running groups to recruit mental health champions and ambassadors. To provide local support to get people running, for their own mental health, and to start talking about mental health in the running community.
  • And at Mind, through our Get Set to Go programme, we support people with mental health problems to become active in their local communities and provide coaches and instructors with training.

The tide is changing and people are waking up to the fact that being active is just as important for the mind. Being physically active reduces the risk of developing depression by up to 30%, builds resilience, can support mental health recovery and is a great way to tackle the stigma that is associated with mental health.

So how does running support your mental health?

  • Reduced anxiety and happier moods. When you’re physically active whether it’s brisk walking, jogging or running your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins (often known as the ‘feel good’ hormones). Along with dopamine and serotonin which can calm anxiety and lift your mood. Known as the “runners high” this feeling of improved mood is immediate, unlike many other health benefits that can take weeks or months to benefit from.
  • Reduced feelings of stress. Had a hard day at the office or caring for children or elderly relatives? Then lacing up your trainers and heading out for a run can really help reduce your stress levels.  Running helps to reduce feelings of stress and tension as your body is better able to control cortisol levels.
  • Clearer thinking. ‘Running clears my Mind’. Many people find that running helps to break up racing thoughts. As your body tires so does your mind, leaving you calmer and better able to think clearly.
  • A greater sense of calm. Simply taking time out for yourself to be active can give you space to think things over and help your mind feel calmer. This is increased when being active outdoors with over 90% of people reporting increased mood having been active in open spaces.
  • Increased self-esteem. When you start to see your running levels increase whether it is going further or faster and achieve your PB (personal best) and your body improve (whether it’s your clothes becoming baggier or feeling firmer), it can give your self-esteem a big boost. The sense of achievement you get from learning new skills and achieving your goals can also help you feel better about yourself and lift your mood. Improved self-esteem also has a protective effect that increases life satisfaction and can make you more resilient to feeling stressed.
  • More energy. As your body adapts to increased activity levels you get a natural energy boost, which can make you feel less tired. Researchers say that even low intensity levels of activity can be beneficial if you usually feel very fatigued.
  • Improved sleep. Many people find they are able to sleep better at night after having been more active during the day, sleep plays a key role in managing your mental health.
  • Social benefits of running. Running with others can have even greater impact as it provides an opportunity to strengthen social networks, talk through problems with others or simply laugh and enjoy a break from family and work. People who run together or join a Couch25k group are more likely to stick with it.

Remember, it’s all about balance and being kind to yourself. Set yourself realistic and achievable goals. Life can get in the way, so be kind to yourself – perhaps a meeting over ran or parents evening meant you missed a session? That’s okay, tomorrow is a new day. Equally, niggles and injuries can mean you need to take time out. But remember that rest days are important too, so try not to beat yourself up. Make time for the other things that you enjoy which help you to manage your mental health whether it’s getting crafty, catching up with friends, taking time out for some mindfulness or listening to your favourite podcast.

More information

If you’re motivated to start running, register today for the Diabetes UK Run26 challenge.

To find out more about how running supports your mental health and Mind’s work, go to the physical activity section of Mind’s website.



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