Impactful Mental Health Benefits from Running Outside

When you first start running, everything feels hard — even motivating yourself to go on a run outside (on a beautiful day!) can be one of the most challenging things to do. It forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you accept that this is probably going to be hard. Plus, there’s all that soreness from your previous run to work through!

It can be enough to make you question why people run in the first place. 

The truth is, it’s not easy at first. It takes a while to get into a groove, and to truly start feeling the benefits of running. But, once you do, be warned — you might find you’re in it for life. 

And with the number of benefits that come with running, who can blame you? There are a plethora of physical and mental health benefits that come from running, especially when you head outside and take in some nature and fresh air at the same time. 

Many people implement running outside into their routines as a mindfulness or wellness practice to help them combat things like anxiety or depression. Spending time moving your body outside is a powerful way to enhance how you feel mentally and emotionally.

Today, we’re going to dive into several of the most impactful mental health benefits that you can experience from running outside. 

Increased Mood 

If you’ve experienced a runner’s high, then you know what we mean. That amazing (and addictive) rush of endorphins and endocannabinoids flood into your bloodstream. Endorphins have a direct effect on how we feel emotionally — there’s a reason they’re known as the ‘feel good’ chemical of our brains, producing feelings of pleasure and happiness.

Runner’s high helps people get through longer, more arduous runs. When your brain is experiencing a surge of endorphins, it masks the amount of physical pain you feel. That’s one of the reasons why running up huge hills, which seems painful at first thought, can actually make a runner feel happy or euphoric. Our bodies enjoy the ‘high’ that we experience from the intense run and want more. That is what pushes runners to keep going over long distances.

But, if you’re new to running, you may not have found the coveted runners high yet. Don’t worry! It takes time. And, you’re still going to get the benefit of endorphins from your run, giving your brain a happy little uptick at the beginning or end of your day (or maybe you’re a lunch time runner!). 

Calmer Nervous System

Once running becomes more familiar and the initial pain starts to give way to routine, running can become truly enjoyable. Many runners believe that running is good for the soul, and you may find this belief more prevalent among trail runners and those who frequently head out into nature. When you combine running with a beautiful setting outdoors, you will likely experience a wave of happiness.

Spending time in nature helps calm down our nervous system. When you spend more time outside, there are several benefits that occur regarding your mental health:

Spending time in nature for mental health benefits has become so popular that it has taken on other names, such as forest bathing or ecotherapy.  It takes us far away from our work laptops and emails, allowing us to relax our minds and be fully present. 

Combining the physical movement of running and the beautiful surroundings of nature, you allow your mind to become clear. It’s easier to forget about the worries of the world when pushing your body through a challenging run amongst a stunning landscape.

Increased Recall and Productivity

While it may seem confusing to separate the physical health of your brain from the way you experience your brain (the mood and the regulation of the nervous system), studies have made some interesting findings regarding running and changes in the brain. 

One particularly interesting body of research found that after a long run, substantial changes were found in the ability of cells to recall memories. A protein called cathepsin-B increases during and after endurance or aerobic activity (though the study focused on running, similar benefits may be seen with jogging and other aerobic activities). This protein not only helps with memory, but increases the ability to learn new things.  

Similarly, studies have shown that taking breaks in the day for physical activity can improve the focus and retention of students. Next time you find yourself hitting a mid-morning slump in the office, maybe a lunch time run is just the key you need to get some fresh air, refresh your brain, and come back feeling ready to focus!

Billionaire Richard Branson may have summed it up perfectly when he was asked what his secret to success and productivity is. Simply put, “work out.”

Increase Confidence

Self-esteem can be a challenge some days for even the most confident of individuals. Plus, let’s be honest — if you’re a beginner at running, it can be challenging to feel good about something that’s so hard at first. And that can cause your confidence to take a temporary hit. 

The good news is that running is a natural antidote to those days where we’re just in a funk and feel ‘off’ for no apparent reason. While we don’t always have time to psychoanalyze our current mental state, we typically have time for a short run outside. 

Next time you’re feeling down, try running outdoors. This movement helps to shake off negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions. That runner’s high kicks in and euphoria begins to blend with our current emotional state.

People that stick to consistent running regiments begin to experience spikes in confidence. You proved to yourself that you can do something challenging, and this confidence can bleed into different areas of your life. You may begin to feel more confident at your workplace. When you speak and interact with others, you sound stronger in your own voice. Not to mention, the more that you run, the more in shape you will likely appear! This also provides an extra boost in confidence.

Improve Sleeps

A huge challenge to maintaining strong mental health is getting enough sleep. There are some people that can run efficiently on 5 hours of sleep and you can’t tell the difference. For the rest of the population, they require between 6-8 hours of sleep to feel good. When sleep is deprived over long periods of time, it can make people irritable and affect their mental health.

Do you get enough sleep, but the quality of it isn’t great? People that exercise and run consistently typically experience higher quality sleep. Your body is tired from the output of going on long runs and looks forward to sleeping at night. You can enter deeper sleep after using your body consistently throughout the day.

But, don’t forget — if you want to keep improving in your running, recovery is essential! Prioritize that sleep, and the cycle will build itself. 

Head Outdoors!

Running outdoors is a different experience for every athlete, and you’re likely to come across several other feel-good benefits from spending more time out in nature!

And, once you start to reap the mental health benefits of outdoor running, you can keep the ball rolling by exploring more questions for your well-being:

What benefits sound the most appealing to you and your running journey? Why do those feel the most effective for you, and how can you continue to supplement those aspects of your life beyond your running workouts?

So, lace up your shoes and hit the trails — happy running!

Author Bio: Dr. Kira Capozzolo is a Chiropractor at Twin Waves Wellness Center, a holistic chiropractic office that practices Network Spinal. She opened up her wellness center with her Twin Sister. Kira enjoys writing about health, wellness, and holistic topics.

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