6 Ways Running Helps Reduce Stress

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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6 Ways Running Helps Reduce Stress

It’s fair to say we’re living in unprecedented and stressful times. While we’re all doing our best to maintain routines and care for ourselves and loved ones, it’s not easy. Nor is it easy to run outside and social distance or to stay motivated when races are canceled, but at the end of the day, we still have running — and that’s worth more than you can imagine.

While it may seem harder than ever to get motivated to run a few miles, actually sticking to your regular running routine helps you through these stressful times, both physically and emotionally. Here’s how:

1

RUNNING CALMS YOU DOWN

Running has been known to produce a ‘runner’s high,’ and whether you’ve ever experienced the euphoria-like feeling or just felt a little happier post-run, it’s likely been part of your running life. (After all, if running didn’t make us feel a little better, why would we keep doing it?) The runner’s high is caused by our brains releasing endorphins, the feel-good hormone. Exercise also slows the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can help you avoid those big spikes in feelings of stress and anxiety. And running has been shown to help the brain mitigate the effects of chronic stress — like what we’re all experiencing right now with anxieties around COVID-19 — according to one study.

2

RUNNING OFFERS A BREAK FROM THE NEWS

It’s hard to scroll Twitter when you’re pounding the pavement (or navigating an interval on the treadmill). “This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone,” says Dr. Jason Friedman, an emergency medicine physician, exercise physiologist, coach and ultra-runner. “Unplugging from the news and social media, at least some of the time, is incredibly important to manage your stress levels. Too much stress and too much cortisol can break down your immune system, which puts you at risk. Think of your daily run less as training and more as a mental and physical release from everything else that’s been going on.”

3

RUNNING SUPPORTS A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM

You’re likely stressed out about getting sick right now — understandably so — but the good news, if you run regularly, is your immune system improves with regular, moderate exercise. Exercise can help keep you at a healthy body weight, reduce blood pressure and improve circulation — and those overall improvements to your general health have been linked to keeping your immune system functioning at its best. (Note that intensive bouts of overtraining can decrease your immune function, so don’t use this as an excuse to drastically up your mileage.)

4

RUNNING HELPS YOU ACT LIKE AN ATHLETE

While exercise can boost your immunity, it can also trigger healthy habits that have a more direct impact on your immune system. When you identify yourself as a runner or an athlete, you tend to have a healthier lifestyle as a result. Things like eating well and prioritizing vegetables and fruit with every meal, sleeping enough, keeping your weight in a healthy range, and having a heightened sense of awareness about how you’re feeling can help keep you healthier in general.

5

RUNNING GIVES YOU A SENSE OF COMMUNITY

At times like this, when we can’t see friends and family as much as we’d like, going on a run can be your only connection to the ‘outside world’ while you’re socially distancing. Even if you’re only seeing a fellow runner or walker from across the road, that smile and wave can help you feel much less alone. And your running friends may not be able to run next to you for a while, but you can still make time to cheer each other on an app like MapMyRun or get on video chat and talk about the latest running shoe technology and how your last workout went. “Continue to distance yourself, but reach out to others via phone, text, video, whatever it takes,” urges Friedman.

6

RUNNING IS SOMETHING YOU CAN LOOK FORWARD TO

Whether you’re looking forward to your next run on the trails, the next time you can get out and do a group workout with a team, or a race that’s planned for next year, running is great because there’s always some kind of goal you can create. (Try not to focus on any immediate racing or performance goal though — focus on something happening in the fall or next summer rather than stressing about whether that July race is happening.)

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.

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