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Running! The ultimate mood enhancer...

Natalie Moore

Aah! the runner’s high. I have literally just sat down after completing a quick couple of laps around the tan. It was a brisk but sunny morning, and although I felt pretty stiff from a few training sessions in a row, I feel great now.

However 20 minutes before the run was a different story. I hit the snooze 3 times and have been anxious about some things happening at work. My legs were already tired and felt like lumps of lead. I wanted so much just to stay in bed, but I forced myself to get up and into the day.

It doesn’t always happen like this. Sometimes I spring out of bed, pumped and full of gratitude just to be able to get out there, but other times its like this. Although instead of pushing through I turn that alarm off and roll over and go back to sleep.
What is interesting is that every time that happens, inevitably I feel worse later on. I beat myself up for not going, or being too lazy or too weak to get it done.
The question it raises, is why don’t we always just jump out of bed and go for it. What holds us back? And does the research back up the idea that running improves our mental health?

This paper Physical exercise in adults and mental health status findings from the Netherlands looked at the mental health of 7000 participants. And although it is always difficult to find an exact causal effect, they showed that the more physical or incidental exercise you do the lower you risk of a mood disorder.

Even more excitingly the University of Queensland this year, compiled a randomised control trial of all the available evidence out there.

  • 70% of studies found a reduction in depression (Moura 2015)

  • Rebar and their team in 2015 showed a statistaically significant in reduction anxiety

  • Rosenbaum 2015 even found a reduction in PTSD symptoms

  • Many more studies showing improvement in adolescents, preganancy coping, healthy ageing and much much more.

How this happens is two-fold. Firstly, running helps to release endorphins into the system. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act on parts of the brain to help make us happy. Secondly, movement helps to work on our amygdala. This part of the brain is often responsible for unconscious depression and anxiety. By providing new impulses and feedback it helps to dampen the output of the amygdala, to help us feel more optimistic.

But knowing what to do and doing what you know are 2 very different things. That is why we need to create strong strategies to get past the hurdles.

Tom Holland who wrote the Marathon Method describes some basic tips:

    • Make the habit: creating new habits is energy sapping for our brains.  This means try and do your run same time of the day, the same days of the week. Obviously this is within the constraints of your life, but it gives you one less thing to think about and one less obstacle to overcome. 

    • Train with a friend: If possible, have a running partner or partners. This gives you the added motivation of not letting the other person down, particularly when your feeling low. Having a few different people can also stimulate you to train better, which may improve your performance

  • Organise early: Get all the things you need for a successful run, like your watch, shoes, towel, snacks and have them ready the day before. They act as a little reminder that the run is coming up, and give the run more value, meaning you will less likely pull out

 If you set up consistent habits, you set yourself up to run more often, which as we have learned can give you so many positive mental and emotional benefits. As Nike says, you need to find a way to Just Do It!

Chris Jellis is a sports physiotherapist, has worked in elite sport for the past 10 years, and is one of the directors of the Sum Of Us studio. Sum of Us is a health and wellness studio in Prahran that combines the science of modern physiotherapy and health care, with the beauty and asthetics of a luxurious, nourishing environment.  For more information go to 

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