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Many times people wonder why I run. When they ask and I tell them, they often respond with:

  • You’re going to ruin your knees

  • It’s exhausting, how can you like to do that?

  • I could never do that, I’m too heavy, too slow, too old….

And there are many more that I could add to this list. I am willing to bet you could easily list your personal top three!

As a medical social worker I often hear both positive and negative comments from my patients about running. For me, I focus on the positive. So, let’s talk about how running benefits us emotionally.

Benefits of Running:

Running reduces and relieves stress, anxiety, and tension. It also decreases symptoms of depression, produces creativity, and helps develop positive relationships. Let's face it, there are many more psychological benefits. We’ve all heard about the “runner’s high”, and yes, it is real, but not everyone achieves that on every run. Even if you don’t experience it, that doesn't mean you won’t benefit from a run. There is always a benefit to just moving our bodies and clearing our mind.

Running also is physically beneficial in that it’s great for the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, heart health, balance, strength, flexibility, muscular tone, the immune system, bone health, and boosts chemicals in the brain to assist with the prevention of cognitive decline. On top of that, outdoor running helps with Vitamin D production. There are so many benefits physically that I could go on and on about.

The Mind Body Connection:

Positive mind, positive body right? Yes, when we look at all these positives listed above, it is all connected; brain, heart, lungs, bones, and muscles. When we lack motivation to run or move due to symptoms of depression, we have a tendency to isolate, or we may show up with a smile on our face but deep down we may be suffering inside which in turn can cause increased sadness, hopelessness, tension, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. This then lowers our immune system which leaves us susceptible to illness and diseases. It can also eventually lead to poor energy and appetite, seeking comfort foods, weight gain, increased anxiety, restlessness, sleep issues, substance use or abuse. Put this list together and we have a perfect storm leading to mild or chronic illnesses or disease.

We must nurture our body and mind. It’s not just about what we put into our mouths. Take when you’re ill for example. When we’re sick we look up symptoms in Google and next thing you know you’ve checked off every symptom in the box. We then go to the physician and find out that it’s really something minor. After that we feel better and are maybe even cured. That is the mind and body connection. Our brains can sometimes trick our body into thinking we’re more ill than we really are. That being said, I do not want to discount that realistically we sometimes can be spot on and be seriously ill, but I want you to consider how our mind can play tricks on us.

So as for depression and anxiety, yes, it can lead to a negative effect on our bodies when it becomes chronic or paralyzing to us. This is why we want to move in any way we can. Movement keeps the brain sharp, our bodies in check, and provides more benefits to the body and mind than we may think. Try to reflect where your body and mind are before and after a run, what was your focus, do you feel better or worse? What can you focus on, or do differently?

My “Why” for Running:

When people ask me why I run, I tell them it’s to keep my lungs (asthma) under control because it helps with my breathing. I also run to keep the muscles that support my neck and spine strong as I have degenerative disease. I run for the mental health benefits too. I run because that's when I process my feelings, my sadness, anger, confusion. I solve my problems and, sometimes, other people's problems when I run as well. I also use the time to reflect and to be outside because my office has no windows. It’s a great way to enjoy my environment, birds, trees, and the activity around me; or the opposite with the quiet just before sunrise. I run to keep my mental health in check and ease my anxiety and depression. A good run keeps me from having meltdowns, and it helps me to balance my weight by keeping it under control as I am at high risk for diabetes. I’m sure I could go on and on with many more reasons.

Are there days I lack motivation? You bet there are! I just keep a realistic weekly goal that I can achieve! Sometimes I increase my movement and sometimes I decrease it. It is not about the miles or the time I spend. It’s about the journey for me and the health benefits. Sometimes I can only run for ten minutes, but that’s ten minutes towards my health. And sometimes I can run for an hour or even hours. It's about the journey of keeping my mind and body connected.

I encourage you to make your list, speak to your health professionals, and check in with yourself regularly. It’s okay to not be okay at times. Our body is one piece of machinery that’s all connected and we have to take care of it in ways we can.

When you are feeling emotionally or physically tired sometimes the best cure may be to put those sneakers on. After all ... .when is the last time you regretted exercising?

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10/23/2023 | 4 min read

Running: The Body and Mind Connection

By Michelle Tortora, LICSW

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