Outdoor Runs: 5 Ways They Help The Mind

Topless man in shorts running across the sand. It's a blue skied day and sand is being flicked into the air as he runs freely to hep clear his mind

They say going out for walk helps clear the mind, but do you know that running outdoors does the same? While running, you toe the line between exhaustion and elation. As you are pushing your body to the limits – your legs burning, heart racing, and breath coming out in pants – the surroundings blur and the mind blessedly clears.

People, especially runners, know intuitively that running helps you work out your thoughts and feelings. Now, science finally proves how running can be incredibly beneficial to the mind.

Gives You A High

If you’ve been running for a long time, you should know all about the elusive feeling of incredible euphoria you get after running, called runner’s high. The high you get after running has nothing to do with psychoactive substances. In the 1980s, endorphins were credited for the happy feeling you get after physical exercise.

However, recent studies, one 2015 study in mice and another small 2014 study in humans, found that anandamide, a type of endocannabinoid, may be the cause of the high you get from running. Endorphins can’t move from the blood to the brain because their molecules are too large, while anandamide has no problem traveling to your head. Moreover, findings in 2014 study report that “exercise increases serum concentration of endocannabinoids.”

Reduces Symptoms Of Depression

Three million people suffer from depression, according to data gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO calls depression as “the leading cause of disability worldwide” and “a major contributor to the overall global burden disease.”

Unlike physical injuries and ailments, the wounds dealt by depression are unseen, but that does not make them any less painful or detrimental. Depression affects every aspect of a person’s life.

Experts use different methods to treat depression – psychological treatments and medical treatments. In one study, they looked into how running as psychotherapy helped patients with clinical depression. Study participants were divided into three groups, receiving different treatments: exercise intervention, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and both interventions. All groups saw a significantly positive outcome in the treatment.

Although mental-health experts are still figuring out why and how exercise, like running, provides antidepressant effect on patients, its effectiveness in decreasing symptoms of depression has long been established.

Helps Manage Stress

Even if you don’t experience the elusive runner’s high, going out for a run can clear the mind and helps build your resilience to stress. Running increases your serotonin levels, which helps you relax and calm down.

A weak body exacerbates your stress levels. Running improves your body’s immune system by building your resistance to germs, so you’re in top physical condition to deal with every challenge you encounter.

Protects Your Brain From Cognitive Decline

It was believed that humans stop growing neurons once they reach adulthood, but recent studies are looking into the different ways the adult brain can form new neurons. In one study, they found that exercise, specifically running, can boost the formation of new neurons in an adult rodent’s hippocampus.

The hippocampus plays an important role in learning, memory, and mood regulation. Developing new neurons in that region can have positive outcomes in an adult’s learning ability and memory, so it is possible to teach old dogs a new trick.

A research in Time magazine also finds that elderly participants who ran and performed aerobic activities regularly experienced a lower rate of brain shrinkage and cognitive decline.

Gives You Better Sleep At Night

People who regularly exercise get better sleep than those who don’t. Regular exercise, like running, contributes to a strengthened circadian rhythm and improves sleep in people with sleeping disorder and insomnia.

In one study, 51 young adults were divided into two groups. One group was assigned to go on 30-minute runs, five days a week, for three weeks while the other was not. The running group not only got better sleep, but also experienced improved psychological functions and had better focus in the day. Another study finds that aerobic exercises help improve sleep in older adults with insomnia.

Safety When Running Outdoors

Running and aerobic exercises have long been proven to be beneficial to the body and the mind. It builds your immune system, helps burn calories, and contributes to the development of bones and muscles. Running also helps clear the mind, strengthens your resilience against stress, improves your memory and learning abilities, and helps you be more calm and relaxed.

But you’ll only experience these positive effects if you keep safe and don’t overtax your body. When you’re running outside, don’t forget to take safety measures. Use shoes that are made for running, and consider wearing a reflective LED belt to increase your visibility to motorists and other people, especially in the early morning, at night, and in bad weather.

You don’t have to run a marathon, but running 30 minutes a day, at a moderate pace, will yield a positive outcome. No matter how beneficial running is to your body and your mind, don’t go risk your health and safety by going out on a bad weather day.

*collaborative post

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