The quote “a sound mind in a sound body” is now a scientific fact. Our ancestors also believed that physical fitness is linked to good mental health. But no scientific proof was present. But not anymore! Scientists have conducted many experiments to establish this link. The results of these studies are very promising. One such study found that running help depression and anxiety control. It states that running not only improves the athlete’s mood but also improves its overall mental health.
Running affects those parts of the brain that are most negatively affected by depression. If an athlete runs regularly there is a brighter chance that he is not depressed.
How Does Running Help Depression?
When a person goes for running, he meets new people and social groups. He is exposed to a new environment, an open atmosphere, fresh air, and bright sunlight.
Nature plays its part to lift his mood. But these are general effects. Running has some specific effects on some parts of the brain like the hippocampus and frontal cortex. These together help a person with depression.
But remember this is not a replacement for the treatment. If a person goes to a psychiatrist for treatment, he must continue to do so. Running is just a supplement to it.
Many think that running is a lonely activity. No, it is not. Most runners have a workout buddy, or they are part of some online support group. There are many local groups of runners and they are some amazing people to be around.
They compete with others, they share their experience and knowledge with the group. This creates a bond that makes the lonely feeling go away.
Nature has always been helping people get out of depression and that lack of motivation. Either you look at Buddha or monks of China; they all tried to connect to nature for mental strength.
When you get out to places such as parks, having a lot of greenery and sunlight, it hits you differently. You feel the sunlight, the light breeze, the smell of soil and trees.
This stimulates your brain, strengthens your heart, and refreshes your soul. These stimulation motivate you, lifts your mood, thus running help depression control.
Most depressed people complain about their thoughts. The ones that don’t leave their head, the ones that drain their energy, and steal their focus and peace.
Runners have told that running helps them focus on a single goal, helps them to clear their heads of those depressing thoughts. This conserves their mental energy which they can use to focus on other things.
How Running Can Help You Mentally?
Runners have their unique physique. You could only see that slim and lean body. But researchers were interested in more than that. Scientists have observed runners’ brains too. And you will be surprised by what they have found.
Running not only stimulates different parts of the brain but also forces them to make new connections between them. The most affected parts of the brain were those that were hit hardest by the depression, like the hippocampus and frontal cortex. Running helps to repair the damage caused in these areas by depression.
1. The Frontal Cortex
The frontal cortex is the front part of the brain. It is associated with the personality, dreams, and motor functions of the body. It is the center of decision making and thought process.
Depression hit this area the hardest. Which explains why depressed people are always overthinking, uncertain, and lacks decision making?
Researchers found that running is stimulating this part of the brain most. It helps runners to clear their heads and focus on a single goal. Running helps them in making decision making. It makes them emotional and mentally strong.
Running causes the frontal cortex to form more neural connections in the brain. This increases their mental power. They feel more focused and bold. Thus running help depression and anxiety and reduce their stress.
2. The Hippocampus
When neurologists examined the brains of depressed people they found shrunken hippocampus. It is the part of the brain that helps in memorization and controls emotions.
It might be the reason why depressed people always lack the motivation to do anything, are emotional down, and lack concentration. Running helps the hippocampus to recover from damage. Some studies show that the hippocampus enlarged back to its normal size just after six months of running. It’s very rapid recovery if you considered that neurological damage takes years to recover.
Is Running Good For Mental Health?
There are loads and loads of benefits to running. There might many others that we just don’t know right now, in the future maybe. Let me just mention two of those that affect the whole body in general.
1. Changes in Thought Patterns
In other words, shifting the cognitive process that happens when a person alters it’s though process and pattern. It makes him respond differently to the outside world.
The best source to do so is running. Running is the best way to set little goals and then try to achieve them. It will give you some sense of accomplishment. This makes you focus on one thing at a time.
If you practice it regularly, you will start applying in other aspects of your life. Don’t go big at first if you can’t do it, go small and with consistency. This way you can achieve any goal. You will get motivated to do things.
2. Endorphins and Hormones
Running releases serotonin and norepinephrine. The hormones that make you feel happy, excited, and motivated. Running also releases many other endorphins. Which is called “runner’s high”? Depressed people lack these hormones secretion or have very little. So, to increase their secretion, go for a running mate.
Is Running The Best Treatment For Depression?
Running might not be the treatment for depression but it helps in coping with it. You can find many scientific research papers that explain it. That said, running is itself a very healthy exercise. You don’t have to run miles and miles just run enough that feel exhausted. Happy running!