Let’s Talk… About The Mental Health Benefits Of Running

How Running Can Help Your Mental Health

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mental health benefits of running

By Coach Paul, England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador and We Run Coach for Teesside

We all know that running can promote physical well-being, but perhaps less discussed is how running can benefit our mental health. An activity that can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, loneliness or depression must be good, right? Furthermore, it can boost our self-esteem, self-image and confidence. In our blog this week, we touch upon reasons your running journey can benefit you in ways you might not have thought of.


Running encourages social interaction and friendships

Feeling close to, and valued by people is a fundamental human need that contributes to our mental health. The interactions you have with others at parkruns, races, club meets and social events will gradually benefit your mind as well as your body. You’ll begin to witness how others run to help alleviate depression, anxiety and stress. You’ll also start to become more selfless – taking an interest in other people’s running and successes. Just remember, it won’t happen overnight – friendships take time to build.

Running is fun!

Some people are competitive – but we usually run because we enjoy it – and research has shown a link between the things people enjoy doing and improvements in their overall well-being. It’s human nature to have a moan when you finish the cross country, freezing and covered in mud – but deep down you’ll know you secretly enjoyed it, and will have shared the moment with your fellow runners.

Running gives you a purpose or goal and adds structure to your life

By setting a goal, you’re more likely be motivated to get out running on a regular basis. Goals should be simple and obtainable – for example, taking 30 seconds off your best parkrun time, getting out with a running group at least once a week or volunteering to help with admin duties at your local club.

The organizational skills required for regular running (i.e. finding out about club meets, your travel arrangements, your training, attending social events etc.) add routine and structure to your day. A friend of mine rates the daily ‘structure’ element of running more important to her mental health than the actual activity.

Running will improve your self-esteem, self-image and confidence

Feeling relaxed around, and being valued by your fellow runners will help improve your self-esteem. A change in body shape and posture through running may improve your self-image. The fitter you become and the more running skills you learn – the more confident you’ll be to start new running challenges.

Running reduces anxiety, depression and stress

At my We Run interview, I expressed how running helps me stay ‘in the moment’. When your Coach has you running down a slippery hill on a wet December evening, trust me, your only anxious thought will be about how best to stay on your feet.

Depression has many underlying causes – but on a purely physiological level, running can boost the ‘feel good’ chemical serotonin. A ‘runner’s high’ is triggered when endorphins are released in the brain – acting as a natural antidepressant and reducing tiredness.

The stress of modern life can be eased by running – rarely do you feel tension after a run.

Running gets you outdoors

Connecting with nature and having a sense of freedom are important to mental well-being. We live in a beautiful country so get your running kit on and explore your surroundings.

Running boosts creativity, brain power and focus

Running boosts blood flow to the brain, and its positive effects can last long after you’ve stopped. For any budding Picassos out there, perhaps the best time to pick up a brush is after a run…

Run & Talk / Mental Health Ambassadors

Two initiatives launched by England Athletics – Firstly, #runandtalk aims to improve mental well-being through running. It gets people talking about mental health – sharing experiences and reducing stigma. Mental Health Ambassadors, of which I am one, are running club members who act as friends to anyone at the club who may be experiencing mental health issues. We liaise with the mental health charity Mind and can act as the first point of call for any potential new runners referred to us by the organisation.

what you need to know
  • Running reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress

  • Running is a fun activity that encourages social interaction

  • Running gives structure to your day

  • Running helps give purpose and meaning to your life

  • Running improves your self-esteem, self-image and confidence

  • Running gets you outdoors and boosts creativity and focus

what you need to do
  • Get into a regular ‘structured’ running routine

  • Share your feelings with fellow runners and seek out your club’s Mental Health Ambassador if need be

  • Bounce back from any set backs on your running journey – be it injury, illness, poor runs or just bad days

  • Be patient. The mental health benefits of running will come gradually over time

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