Written by running coach and Ruby Fury ambassador, Hannah Warne
We’ve all been told countless times that exercise is good for our mental health. More than that though, did you know it’s actually really good for our overall brain function?!
With more and more people turning to exercise as a means to cope with this unreal year, we thought you’d like to know the ‘Hows’ and ‘Whys’ behind the espousals…
ENDORPHINS (Or RUNNERS HIGH)
The first reason is the one we hear most often. Exercise releases endorphins. Often referred to as the body’s “feel good” chemical, they have been shown to diminish pain and trigger positive thoughts and emotions. As you begin to run (or exercise), your heart race increases, your blood runs faster and your respiratory rate increases too. You prepare to work hard and those endorphins begin to flow. They are a natural stimulant produced in response to pushing yourself.
VITAMIN D – THE SUNSHINE VITAMIN
Often forgotten about when talking about mental health improvements is Vitamin D.
Lacing up your shoes and hitting the roads or trails you are exposing your body to the sunshine (even on a cloudy day). This Vitamin is essential for us and many of us do not get enough (but that’s another topic entirely). As well as helping calcium absorption, this nutrient can lessen the effect of any depressive symptoms…I’m looking at you Seasonal Affective Disorder. Besides all of this, there is something very primal, calming, grounding and resetting about being outside in nature.
Another (natural) chemical increased in concentrations by running is norepinephrine. This helps moderate your body’s response to stress. Sometimes, when you can feel the work piling on, more and more stressors in your life, the last thing you feel like doing is going for a run. Trust me when I tell you that putting on those shoes and getting out, even for just 15 minutes, will make you feel so much better and more able to cope with what’s waiting when you get home.
As long as you’re not running too close to bed time, a good run earlier in the day can actually help you sleep. It’s not the fact you’ve worked harder and used more energy (although it will undoubtedly help!), moving raises your core temperature. If you do this 5-6 hours before bedtime the lowering of your temperature a few hours later signals the body it’s bedtime. Combine this with a warm milky drink before bed and you’re bound to feel an improvement!
And by brain power I mean all round brain power, from sharpened memory, greater creativity, increased focus, improved learning ability and prevention of cognitive decline.
Cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. A tough run increases levels of a brain-derived protein in the body, believed to help with decision-making, higher thinking and learning.
It goes without saying some of these will be true of any form of exercise (how many of us joined in PE with Joe earlier this year?!) but running is a great way to get out and see for yourself how many of the above benefits you feel.
On a personal note, I find that when I’m out running, the tangle of (often nonsensical) thoughts in my head actually unravel and become comprehensible. It’s then I come up with some of my best ideas. With 3 children at home all desiring my undivided attention, running is the time I use to exercise my body and calm my mind. It’s a novelty to actually hear the thoughts in my mind!
The next time you feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, consider putting on your shoes and getting out there.