Running is not only a great way of improving your overall happiness, health and well being but it can in fact help to alleviate symptoms of depression.
It is estimated that one quarter of the population will suffer from some kind of mental health issue each year, with depression effecting nearly a fifth of UK adults. Many studies have proven that regular exercise can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A recent study by University College London found that exercising three times a week could lower the risk of depression by 16%. Factors included its ability to distract a person from stress and the production of endorphins after exercise. GPs are regularly prescribing exercise for depression and for very good reason. Cost-free, bursting with physical (as well as mental) health benefits and the most efficient calorie-burning cardiovascular activity, running is a fantastic way of getting into exercise.
As well as triggering the release of endorphins – the body’s own natural antidepressant, running can alleviate symptoms of depression in many other ways. Here’s how:
Exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Fitness expert and Chief Trainer at the Academy of Fitness Professionals, Peter Lemon recommends running as a means of reducing anxiety. “Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, has been shown to reduce both generalised anxiety and anxiety sensitivity” he says. “If you are the kind of person who suffers from panic attacks, then reaching for the running shoes will help you to feel better faster than hiding under the duvet”.
Another way that running can help to alleviate anxiety and depression is by encouraging social interaction – either in the gym, through running clubs or by participating in mass-organised races. Making friends through running can become a great social support for those suffering from depression and may help to reduce anxiety in other, more socially-demanding situations.
Insomnia has been proven to worsen symptoms of depression. Regular exercise will improve sleep quality as the transition between sleep cycles becomes more regular. Psychologist, CBT and BULK POWDERS sponsored athlete Jessica Johns-Green who specialises in psychological approaches to anxiety explains that sleep is key to alleviating symptoms of depression. “A good nights sleep is important for our health but struggling to sleep against the weight of the world on your mind is common” she says. “When we exercise hormonal and biological forces are at work, these lead us to feel less stressed and have more energy, plus help us to sleep better and feel refreshed when we wake.”
Jessica also recommends exercise for depression due to its ability to boost confidence levels. “Our confidence grows with each workout and we gather evidence of our resilience and determination, which are like weapons in an arsenal against depression” Jessica explains. As weight loss is a natural by-product of exercise, developing confidence in body image will also lead to increased self-esteem.
A loss of appetite is a key symptom of stress and depression. A balanced and nutritious diet plays an important role in sustaining good physical and mental health. An inadequate diet can lead to poor decision-making, fatigue, obesity and a suppressed immune system. Personal trainer and founder of Be The Fittest, Tyrone Brennand recommends exercise as a good way of bolstering appetite, leading to improved health and wellbeing. As exercise likewise encourages a healthy and active lifestyle, regular exercise may also lead to an improved diet to complement and enhance one’s training.
Studies have found that daily goals in the form of positive activities can help alleviate depression. By running a couple of times a week, you can set yourself weekly goals, whether it be simply putting your trainers on and getting out of the house, running for 30 minutes without stopping, or beating your PB. Entering a race is also a great way of setting yourself a goal to work towards, encouraging regular exercise as part of your training. Entering a spring/summer race is a perfect way to keep your mind focused and your body in shape during the gloomy winter months. Why not sign up to one of our WR 10K or 5K races as part of our WR10K Race Series? They’re women-only, fun and friendly and designed for runners of all abilities. Take a look at the races you could enter.