- August 26, 2018
- Posted by: Stephen Coleclough
- Category: Fitness
There is a multi-billion dollar global industry dedicated to helping people deal with anxiety and depression.
This industry includes dozens of multinational drug companies and thousands of doctors who offer a variety of treatments including medications and psychological counselling.
But what if I told you that the simple act of exercising regularly could help you manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety?
There is growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that moderate-to-high intensity cardiovascular exercises like running can dramatically reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Researchers have already discovered that vigorous activities like running can be as effective as taking anti-depressant medication for many people.
However, unlike antidepressants, the only side effects you will suffer from running are better health and weight loss.
How running reduces depression and anxiety symptoms
Here are a just a few off the ways that running can help you deal with the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Running will improve your mood
A study published in 20017 found that running or walking for as little as 30 minutes can lead to a significant improvement in a person’s mood.
This particular study had participants who were moderately-fit run for 30 minutes and participants who were non-exercisers walk for 30 minutes.
They found that the both moderate exercisers and non-exercises had their mood improve.
However, moderate exercises had their mood improve twice as much.
The researchers believe this occurred because moderate exercisers were able to sustain exercise at a higher intensity of exercise, kicking off the physiological processes that improve mood.
The improvement in mood caused by running is due to the release of endorphins by the brain.
Endorphins are hormones that will interact with receptors in the brain to reduce a person’s perception of pain.
The release of endorphins will trigger a positive or euphoric feeling throughout the body.
It is this sensation that plays a primary role in improving a person’s mood during and after exercise.
Other studies have found that people who run regularly have higher levels of endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are natural substances that bind to the same receptors in the brain as THC — the main active ingredient in Marijuana that gives users feelings of pleasure.
These feelings of pleasure can also improve a person’s mood.
Running regularly changes the structure of the brain
In addition to temporarily improving your mood, running regularly can make long-term changes to the brain that can improve a person’s mental health.
A study published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review found that regular exercise makes a person more resilient to stress (high levels of stress can cause both anxiety and depression).
Running regularly makes the brain more resilient to stress in two ways.
Firstly, it causes the brain to produce higher levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.
They are the same neurotransmitters that most antidepressant medications target to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.
Secondly, running promotes neurogenesis, which is the creation of new neurones in the brain.
As more neurones grow and form connections, it stimulates the hippocampus — a section of the brain that is often shrunken in people with depression.
Having a healthy hippocampus can mean a person will experience less depression symptoms.
Running is a great way to process negative thoughts
Many people with anxiety or depression have recurring thoughts and feelings that they struggle to deal with.
This often includes feeling of regret, sadness, anxiety, or anger relating to past or future events.
The act of running can be a useful way to process these thoughts and feelings.
When exercising at moderate intensity, it is difficult to ruminate on a single topic for long periods.
The mind will be spending more time focusing on how the body feels as it travels through the environment where a person is running.
Many runners find it easier to resolve the ruminating thoughts and feelings they have while running.
It is easier find solutions to problems while running or to simply come to the conclusion that these thought and feelings simply don’t matter.
You may find many negative thoughts simply disappear because you are running outdoors on a sunny day.
How much should you run?
The Mayo Clinic suggests that “30 minutes or more of exercise per day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms.”
However, even shorter bursts of exercise can help, like going for a brisk 15 minute walk during your lunch break or riding your bike a short distance to work.
If you are exercising at a high intensity, as you would be when jogging, you may only need 20 minutes per day, three to five times per week.
You can also incorporate short sprints into your workouts to really get your heart rate going and encourage the physiological and psychological changes listed above.
Does running work for everyone?
The vast majority of people suffering from anxiety or depression can benefit from physical exercise.
In many cases the, simple act of running every day will be enough to completely remove the symptoms of depression and anxiety that a person experiences.
However, if you are suffering from severe clinical depression or an extreme form of anxiety, you will need a multi-faceted approach.
Work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that incorporates a combination of counselling, medications, and exercise.
How to get started
The New York Times published an excellent guide called How To Start Running.
It shares some very useful tips including how to use the run-walk technique and how to pick a great pair of running shoes.
The key to using running to beat depression and anxiety is consistency.
Make sure you get at least 3 to 5 runs in each week and make each run more physically demanding.
You will be surprised at the difference that exercise can make to your mental state.