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Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

Everyone deals with stress and anxiety differently. But the most effective thing for relieving stress in my life is running. While I have multiple techniques I use to deal with stress, including meditation, music and walks, running has consistently been my most effective coping mechanism, no matter what is triggering my anxiety. When I run, I can let my mind wander, process a challenging situation or completely check out and just hit the road while listening to my favorite playlist.

It’s worth noting that while I do listen to music on some runs (and when I do, I wear these headphones), I’m also an advocate of doing some runs without music or a podcast and thinking about other things or letting your mind wander. Whether I listen to something or not, I always carry my phone for safety reasons.

Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

Since we’re all dealing with increased stress these days, I wanted to share why I turn to running for stress relief and have for over 20 years.

If you’re new to running and want to take it up, be sure to check out my other running posts to help you get started or join my online running course. This post has a round-up of free running apps that may be helpful too.

While exercise — especially running — is a physical stress, it can actually help relieve mental stress and improve mental health. I’m not the only one who claims running relieves stress: there’s real science behind it. Research in lab settings has found reduced emotional reaction to artificially induced stress after people exercise (source). There are SO many benefits to running. But today we’re talking about running as a stress reliever.

Physical activity, multiple times a week, of any kind will help reduce stress, but I especially love running for stress relief! Here’s why.

Improves your mood

You know that thing people call a “runner’s high”? Well that’s an actual, scientific thing. When you’re doing aerobic exercise, your body releases a rush of endorphins (good hormones) which interact with receptors in your brain to block pain. Then, simultaneously, those endorphins trigger a positive feeling. There are studies that show the pain suppression effect is similar to the effects of morphine — minus the addiction or dependence. Running also helps reduce stress hormones, like cortisol. This post talks more about how cortisol interacts with stress. As it relates to running, remember that the right amount of exercise (which is a form of stress) will lower cortisol. Too much exercise — or too little recovery — can elevate it. In short, running literally makes you feel good.

Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”

The body constantly reacts to the world’s physical stressors (like from exercise) and emotional stressors (like deadlines at work). But regardless of its source, the body deploys the hormone cortisol to respond to stress. Cortisol is critical for energy regulation, metabolism, and immune function during times of stress. The body produces cortisol to initiate the fight or flight response—and re-wire how the body uses energy—whether you’re being chased by a bear or stressed about an exam, which can be helpful in the short term. But, on the other hand, prolonged high cortisol levels signal the body to break down muscle for energy and halts processes like immune function, digestion, etc.

Two other stress related biomarkers are hsCRP, white blood cells (WBC) and Magnesium. Inflammation markers like hsCRP and white blood cells (WBC) are impacted by stress. In times of stress, the body increases its inflammation signals and increases hsCRP and WBC as a defense mechanism. Magnesium is considered a key “anti-stress” mineral because it calms the nerves, relaxes the muscles, and improves sleep. Low magnesium levels are connected to increased cortisol levels, which in turn deplete magnesium levels.

It’s incredibly important to know your levels for these biomarkers, since they can signal that you need to make some changes in your lifestyle to decrease your stress levels.

This is where InsideTracker comes in.

I’ve been using their biometric testing for a few years now, and I LOVE it. I was surprised by how much I learned when I got my first blood work done and logged into my personalized dashboard. And it’s been interesting to track certain biomarkers over time, including cortisol. From the beginning, my cortisol levels came back HIGH. And while I was feeling stressed, seeing it in my blood work was slightly jarring. It was a really helpful sign that I needed to do some work to lower those levels.

One of those things is running of course. The other things I started implementing were adding a mindfulness practice, taking Ashwagandha root, and making sure I had enough recovery and rest days in my training so that I wasn’t overworking my body (which causes even more problems).

Two other biomarkers that InsideTracker shows (related to stress levels) are Inflammation markers like hsCRP and white blood cells (WBC) and Magnesium.

Inflammation markers like hsCRP and white blood cells (WBC) are impacted by stress. In times of stress, the body increases its inflammation signals and increases hsCRP and WBC as a defense mechanism. Magnesium is considered a key “anti-stress” mineral because it calms the nerves, relaxes the muscles, and improves sleep. Low magnesium levels are connected to increased cortisol levels, which in turn deplete magnesium levels.

It’s incredibly important to know your levels for these biomarkers, since they can signal that you need to make some changes in your lifestyle to decrease your stress levels.

When I’m feeling stressed, I don’t always want to make the time to run, but I’ve learned that it almost always makes me feel better. And as my husband reminds me when I’m wavering about whether I should run or not, “Honey, it’s rare that you regret going on a run. And knowing you… you’ll feel better when you’re done.” I’m able to get that workout high more consistently with running than with other types of workouts. Sometimes I’ll get it with a good Peloton workout, but that’s always an indoor workout. Which leads me to my next point…

Running gives you time outside

In another study, researchers found that simply spending time outdoors can improve mental health. (Source) I love the outdoors and grew up spending lots of time outside, helping around my parent’s small farm, hiking and camping. But as an adult (and especially now that I don’t live near the mountains), I have to be very intentional about spending time outside. Running is one of the most consistent ways I do that and visiting Boone helps too!

If it’s a non-running day (rest days are important too!), I make sure to go on at least two walks throughout the day. The fresh air makes me feel so much better. Plus, one of the best ways to get Vitamin D is from sunshine and Vitamin D is essential for mental well being. (Source)

If all of your workouts are inside, try moving one outside, whether it’s a short run, a run-walk outing or just a brisk walk. Running forces me outside and makes me breathe in fresh air. And, it gives me a much needed break from electronics. Which we all know have a negative effect on our brains!

Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

Thule Jogging Stroller

Promotes better sleep

When you work hard, you sleep hard. And when you sleep well, you’re more focused and less cranky and running is a great way to encourage better sleep. (Just make sure you don’t head out for a run too close to bedtime. Try to log your miles at least 2-3 hours before bed.) Accordingly to InsideTracker, “ Sleep provides the body with an opportunity to rest from both the physiological and cognitive stressors many athletes face throughout the day. However, despite the body of evidence on the benefits of sleep in athletes (and the potential for sleep to alleviate fatigue), sleep duration and quality are often neglected by athletes.” By using running to reduce stress, you’ll sleep better at night.

Improved physical health

Apart from the science of endorphins and stress hormones, running also has health benefits. Running improves your metabolism, strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure, and increases energy levels. (This post talks more about running for fat loss.) Compared with non-runners, regular runners have a 30-45% LOWER chance of dying from heart disease. (Source) Think you don’t need to worry about heart disease because you’re young? Read this post for signs of heart disease, even in your 20s or 30s. While you will see some benefits short-term from taking up running, with consistent, regular exercise you’ll definitely improve your health in the long run (pun intended). Running can even make your immune system stronger since stress decreases your immune function and running decreases stress (source).

Change of Scenery

Sometimes you need to change up your scenery to take your mind off whatever is bothering you. Running is a great way to get a change of scenery simply by getting out of the house! Bonus points for exploring a new trail or running route while on vacation.

Alone Time 

I love to run with friends. But there are days where I really need to run alone. Running helps me process my thoughts. Whether I’m grieving, am in an anxious spiral or have a big decision to make, I always try to go on a run. And I always feel better for it.

Benefits of running

Why Running is the Best for Stress Relief

If you run, I’d love to hear which of these resonates with you most! Or, if there is another aspect of running that helps with your stress, share that too!

InsideTracker sponsored this post. A big thank you to them for supporting my blog! I’ve loved InsideTracker for many years now, and I’m thrilled to share about a company I’ve loved for so long!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Bahareh
    at

    Yes, I could not agree more! I was in a slump when lockdown first started. Gyms were closed and I’m not the biggest fan of at home workouts. I started running regularly and it’s been helping me reduce stress- challenging and pushing myself is just what I needed. Getting out of the house and exploring places I’ve never explored in LA was also such a mood booster!

  • Reply
    Best Ketamine Clinics
    at

    Hello! Running is a great stress reliever. With any exercise, good hormones are produced, and the hormone cortisol decreases. It is also called the stress hormone. From my own experience I know that when you are stressed, you don’t really want to exercise, but I assure you that after the first 10 minutes of exercise and running, you will feel morally easier. Excellent article!

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