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Mental & Emotional Health

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3 Ways Running Boosts Your Happiness and Confidence

Running and Mental Health Running is Healing

It’s common knowledge that running improves your health and fitness, but what about its effects on your mental state? Why does running feel so good when it’s supposed to be a grueling physical challenge? Is there a positive connection between running and depression, anxiety and other forms of stress?

The short answer is yes. Running is extremely beneficial for your stress levels and overall mental health. A healthy body and mind lead to a happier, more fulfilling life. Here are three significant ways running boosts your happiness and confidence.

1.   Running Changes Your Brain Activity

Running changes your muscle mass, flexibility and other physical qualities over time, but it also affects your brain activity. What’s most clearly observable is the “runner’s high” that many people have experienced. You might think it is a placebo effect, but it’s not. In fact, chemical changes in the brain explain why running feels so good.

Many studies have found changes in neurotransmitter activity in runners. The subjects’ brains were much more stimulated and active than their physically inactive counterparts. Other studies have also shown that the brain releases more endorphins while running, which dulls our stress responses and makes us experience more positive emotions.

These findings support the stories of people who experienced waves of euphoria at some point while running. No one has determined the exact distance and intensity that triggers the reaction, but the temporary mood boost seems more common in long-distance runners than in sprinters.

Running is also closely linked to long-term mood changes. Health experts don’t agree on much these days, but they concur that running is an effective mental health treatment. It has helped many people overcome depression, anxiety and addiction and start brighter chapters in their lives.

You probably know that running is an excellent cardiovascular workout, but did you know that cardio also benefits our brains? The most complex organ in the body still relies on consistent blood flow, just like every other body part. A healthy vascular system leads to a robust brain, which leads to more positive thoughts and feelings.

Running isn’t a guaranteed remedy for happiness, but it’s a powerful force that alters our brains and leads to short- and long-term mood changes. People with positive attitudes and low stress also tend to have greater motivation and resiliency — two important ingredients of happiness and self-confidence.

2.   Running Provides External Motivation

Running also boosts your happiness and confidence by encouraging you to connect with others. Although it’s an individual sport, the running community is full of supportive and social people. Having a trusted friend group is crucial for happiness anywhere, but it’s especially important when the setting is unfamiliar and poses real physical challenges.

Going through a fitness journey alone is a recipe for failure. You won’t have the same positive attitude about running every day. At some point, you will need some external motivation to keep going. Your friends will be there to pick you up and help you stay on track. 

Additionally, receiving positive and negative feedback from peers is a great way to build confidence. Hearing the truth keeps us grounded in reality and forces us to address our weaknesses. We experience the most growth when we’re vulnerable.

For example, you might sign up for local 5Ks or half-marathons and connect with like-minded people that way. You could also join a local gym or running club. Running is one of the world’s universally enjoyed sports and features enthusiastic participants, so you should have no issue making meaningful connections.

Along with the social aspect, running allows you to set short- and long-term goals. You need to adopt a goal-oriented mindset to avoid becoming complacent in life. Complacency often causes feelings of discontent and inadequacy, which compounds depression and anxiety.

People feel happier and more fulfilled when working toward a goal, whether they succeed or not. As cliche as it sounds, the journey is more important than the destination. Working hard on a long-term project builds character and confidence.

Running is a particularly effective goal-setting activity because it’s a never-ending race. It gives you a constant sense of urgency because there’s always another milestone or checkpoint to reach. Plus, running has minimal boundaries. You can run anywhere you want: around the neighborhood, on a hiking trail or along the beach. You make the rules.

3.   Running Improves Your Sleep

Imagine how much happier you would be if you got seven to nine hours of sleep every night. The solution to your problem isn’t a sleeping pill or white noise machine but physical activity. The logic seems simple enough: The more energy you expend, the more exhausted and ready for sleep you will be. However, exhaustion doesn’t guarantee that you’ll stay asleep.

Runners and other active people get longer and deeper sleep than those with more sedentary lifestyles for several reasons. First, physical activity can help fight against insomnia, sleep paralysis and other mental issues people experience at night.

Running also helps you stay at a healthy weight. Obesity makes sleep a chore and increases the effects of sleep apnea, so weight maintenance is critical for long-term sleeping habits. Getting enough sleep also makes it easier to maintain weight, so this is truly a healthy cycle.

Running raises our body temperature and keeps us awake. Once body temperatures drop after 30-90 minutes, the feeling of sleepiness tends to follow. Falling and staying asleep is the natural biological response to running.

Better sleep has a laundry list of positive health effects. It stabilizes energy levels, strengthens immune systems and improves memories. All these factors enable the brain to unlock its fullest potential for positive thoughts and feelings. A good night’s sleep is the foundation of a happy life, no matter your goals or aspirations.

Running Is Healing

Why does running feel so good? It instigates positive changes in the brain, helps us make meaningful connections, provides a sense of purpose and improves sleep schedules. Each element is an essential part of a confident attitude and happy life. Find your trail, start running and see where the journey takes you.

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