By Ojas Joshi
A workout for the legs, a workout for the heart, a workout for the mind—running stimulates nearly every system in the body. While many tend to focus on the excellent physical benefits of running—a healthy heart, strong joints, and improved cardiovascular fitness—my favorite part of running is the mental stimulus and natural stress relief. During a run, the body releases endorphins—little molecules of joy—to mask any pain or physical discomfort. This increased blood flow and molecular production often leads to a vaguely happy and euphoric state amongst athletes; runners high, as it is colloquially known. Moreover, recent research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that this “high” can be attributed to the increased production of endocannabinoids (cannabis-like molecules produced organically within the body) while running. Whatever the case may be, running has been shown to naturally lift moods, and lower stress and anxiety levels.
Running also offers numerous long term mental benefits. Numerous studies have shown that running increases blood flow to the brain, and actually stimulates neurogenesis (the formation of new brain cells). As a result, the hippocampus—the part of the brain associated with memory—has been found to grow amongst long term, consistent runners. This stimulus of the hippocampus has been shown to reduce cognitive decline. Furthermore, a plethora of studies have shown that consistent running reduces stress, depressive feelings, and anxiety.
While running may not be for everyone, there are plenty of other ways to take care of mental health with movement and exercise. Walking, hiking, swimming, biking, and working out have all been shown to improve mental stability and moods.