top of page

5 Mental Health Benefits of Running

In the journey of life, where mental health often takes a backseat, running emerges not just as a physical activity but as a powerful ally for our mental well-being. At Still I Run, we stand at the crossroads of running and mental health advocacy, championing the cause of using running as a tool to combat mental health challenges.

How Running Improves Your Mental Health

We all know running is great for our physical health, but at Still I Run, we're all about the mental health benefits of running and other forms of exercise, too. From helping to reduce stress to creating new brain cells, the mental benefits of running can't be overstated.

man and woman running for mental health

1. Reduces Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Lacing up and hitting the pavement is an effective strategy for combating the blues and soothing anxious vibes. Among the many mental benefits regular exercise offers, being a natural mood enhancer is at the top of the list for many people.

Those miles you log? They're pumping out endorphins, our body's very own feel-good warriors, giving us that much-talked-about runner's high, which can have a dramatic antidepressive effect. So dramatic in fact, that a new study shows “running therapy rivals antidepressants medication for the treatment of depression.”

And for anyone who's felt the edge of panic attacks or the weight of worry, hitting your stride with running can genuinely make those long distances between peace and panic feel a lot shorter. In addition to releasing endorphins, it also lowers the body’s stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, reducing overall stress and anxiety levels.

2. Improves Sleep Quality

If counting sheep isn't cutting it for you, maybe it's time to try counting miles. Regular cardiovascular exercise can help put our sleep cycles into a more friendly rhythm.

Here's the science behind it: Running does more than burn calories—it actually increases your body's core temperature. After your run, as your temperature gradually decreases, it signals to your brain that it's time to sleep. This process doesn't just help you fall asleep faster; it enhances the quality of your sleep, making you wake up feeling rejuvenated. High-quality sleep boosts your mental sharpness and mood, contributing to overall mental health benefits.

3. Enhances Cognitive Function

Engaging in aerobic exercise like running, especially for at least half an hour a day, can significantly reduce the physical and emotional stress that impairs our cognitive health. As your body temperature increases during a run, stress levels decrease, resulting in improved mental clarity and focus.

But the benefits don't stop at stress relief. Running has the remarkable ability to foster the growth of new brain cells, particularly in the hippocampus. This area of the brain is a hub for memory and learning, and by giving it a regular boost through running, we're essentially upgrading our brain's hardware and slowing down the process of cognitive decline that happens as we age.

The result? An improvement in working memory and the ability to pick up new skills and information more efficiently. Regular runners often report better problem-solving skills and a sharper mind, attributes linked to the increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain that aerobic exercise provides.

So next time you have a big work problem or personal problem to solve, throw on your running shoes and go for a jog. You may be surprised that the answers come to you much more easily after logging a few miles.

4. Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence

man running on a track

There's nothing quite like the feeling of hitting a new personal best. It's the runner's high—that euphoric sensation naturally produced after a good run—coupled with the pride of achievement. This high is a perfect building block for long-term self-confidence and self-esteem.

Each mile logged and each goal met on the track or trail translates into a growing sense of self-worth. This isn't just about the numbers on the stopwatch or the scale; it's about setting a challenge and meeting it head-on.

It's the knowledge that you can set your sights on a distant horizon and reach it, one step at a time. This process, inherently packed with many health benefits, also crafts a more positive body image and boosts overall self-esteem.

5. Provides a Sense of Community

Despite its reputation as a lone wolf's sport, running thrives on community spirit. Whether it's lining up at the start of a marathon, joining a local running club like a Still I Run chapter, or being part of online groups like our Still I Run Facebook community, the camaraderie among runners is undeniable and deeply enriching.

This sense of community amplifies the mental benefits of endurance training, making recreational running or race training about more than just physical fitness—it becomes a journey of mental wellbeing.

For many, the act of running with others can significantly relieve stress and boost mood. It's one thing to pound the pavement solo, lost in your thoughts. It's quite another to share that road with someone who understands the struggle, the triumphs, and everything in between. This shared experience fosters a unique bond, providing emotional support that can be hard to find elsewhere.

Running helps bridge gaps between ages, backgrounds, and abilities. For example, older adults, often at risk of social isolation, can find a welcoming space in running communities, where their achievements are celebrated, and their experience is valued.

Similarly, those who may struggle to feel motivated when running alone often find that group runs or community challenges offer the encouragement they need to stick to a regular running routine.

Physiological Effects of Exercise

still i run community of mental health runners posing for a photo

The physiological effects of exercise extend far beyond the well-known benefits we often think of—stronger muscles, increased endurance, and weight management—deeply influencing our entire body system and significantly improving our health and well-being.

Here's a closer look at how engaging in regular physical activity, like running, can lead to profound physiological changes.

Cardiovascular Health

Exercise has a direct and positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Regular physical activity helps strengthen the heart muscles, improving its ability to pump blood more efficiently throughout the body. This increased efficiency results in improved circulation and blood flow, leading to lower blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart disease. Exercise also raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, and lowers unhealthy triglycerides, safeguarding the heart further.

Respiratory Efficiency

With consistent exercise, the respiratory system becomes more efficient at exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen. Over time, this can enhance lung capacity and stamina, making activities that once left you breathless feel much easier. This improved efficiency not only supports your exercise regimen but also enhances overall respiratory health.

Metabolic Function

Exercise plays a crucial role in regulating the body's metabolism. It helps in controlling blood sugar levels by increasing the muscles' sensitivity to insulin, thereby reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, regular physical activity helps in maintaining a healthy weight, accelerating metabolism, and promoting the body's fat-burning capacity.

Musculoskeletal Strength

Engaging in exercises, especially weight-bearing activities like running, strengthens the musculoskeletal system. It increases bone density, which can help ward off osteoporosis, and enhances muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination. This not only aids in performing daily activities with ease but also reduces the risk of falls and bone fractures.

Endocrine and Hormonal Benefits

Physical activity stimulates the endocrine system, which controls the release of hormones in the body. Exercise triggers the release of various hormones that help in regulating energy, mood, and even pain perception. For instance, endorphins, often referred to as the body's natural painkillers, are released during exercise, leading to an improved mood and a natural energy boost.

Neurological Health

Exercise has a profound impact on the brain. It promotes the release of neurotrophic factors, which support the growth and survival of neurons, aiding in cognitive function. Regular physical activity has been linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer's. It also has immediate effects on the brain, improving concentration, creativity, and reducing feelings of stress.

Embrace The Mental Health Benefits of Running With The Still I Run Community

woman jumping and smiling in a still i run runners for mental health awareness shirt

Running is a powerful, accessible, and cost-effective way to enhance mental health. It embodies the essence of what we stand for at Still I Run—running for a cause, running for health, and running for life. Whether you're an experienced runner or just starting out, the mental health benefits of running are within your stride. So, lace up your shoes and take the first step towards a healthier mind. Remember, every step forward is a step towards better mental health.

Join us in our mission to break the stigma surrounding mental health and discover the transformative power of running. Together, we run not just for our health, but for our happiness and well-being.


By Amber Kraus

bottom of page