I don’t think it will come as any surprise to anyone if I tell you that running can help you with your anxiety and depression. Or better put, movement of the body helps your mental health.
I can speak to this personally as runner who has been running my entire life for fun, and in organized races since I was a kid. And I can testify to the sheer amount of clients I work with, who see a dramatic shift for the positive in their mental health after they start running — or just moving their bodies.
I talk about running a lot, but in order to not be dogmatic about this, it really doesn’t matter what you do — just move your body. Walk. Hike. Row. Bike. Skate. Jump. Swim. Climb. Throw. You get my point. It’s really endless the types of movement that the body can do.
There is lots of research on the impact of body movement on anxiety, depression, and overall mental health and well being. But one example is Harvard professor of psychiatry John Ratey. In an article in Outside Online they write the following:
In his Harvard Health Blog, he notes that one of the ways that exercise lowers anxiety is by activating frontal regions of the brain responsible for executive function. This helps control the amygdala, which reacts to threats to our survival whether they are real or imagined.
“When you’re running, you use more brain cells than any other human activity,” he explains, noting that this benefit is enhanced by running outdoors. “If you’re also having to focus, and pay attention to the change in the environment, looking at rocks and all that kind of stuff, that’s even more of a challenge, and a good stress on the brain.”
He notes that another way that running acts to reduce anxiety is by giving us a sense of control in that particular moment in life and, by doing so, allows us to just “be” in the moment.
“You’re taking charge and not letting the worries from the [internal and external] environment come in,” he says. Particularly right now, with the threat of a virus lurking in the air, passively sitting inside may make us feel threatened, causing toxic stress levels to rise. But we can curb the rise of that anxiety and make our own beneficial stress by exercising.
So if you are struggling with mental health, whether it is some anxiety, or depression — or both. I encourage you to find a little time each day to move your body. Don’t worry about the specific movement, but instead, find something you can engage and be consistent with day in and day out for an extended period of time. As you do this, I believe you will begin to notice a positive shift in your overall mental health and well being.
If you struggle to take the next step, try walking around your neighborhood block for 15 minutes, 3 days a week. Do that for 2-3 months straight, and then reassess that experience. And then continue to do the same or change it up. But whatever you do, just get moving.
And speaking of John Ratey, here is a video of him talking about how exercise really is the best medicine for our brains.