10 Ways Running Races Improves Your Mental Health
What does running races really do for you? More than you might have guessed!
You already know running builds muscle and improves cardiovascular health, but there are some hidden benefits to running - and even more when you run races with other people. I'm not just talking about runner's high (feeling happy and relaxed), there are a number of other mental health benefits.
Are you feeling stressed about anything (and most of us are)? We've got a run for that! Running helps alleviate stress and enhance the body's ability to handle mental tension. Biochemistry shows that exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps manage the brain's stress response.
Help with Sleep
Running (or walking briskly) can be like taking a sleeping pill, even for people who suffer from insomnia. Why? Simple biochemistry (again). Engaging in activity about five to six hours before going to bed raises your body's core temperature. Later, when the temp drops to normal, your body gets the signal that it's time to sleep.
Have you ever been out on a run or brisk walk and had the best idea or solved a problem you've been having? There's a reason for that! A good run or walk boosts oxygen to the brain and can increase your creativity for up to two hours after. Instead of staring off into space, or at the blank page, anticipating the flow of ideas, get up and get your legs moving - you will refresh your body and brain - it's a win-win!
Outdoor running or walking helps your body produce vitamin D, which has many purposes in the body, one of which is to decrease your likelihood of experiencing depressive emotions. Since most races are outside, this is an added benefit.
Calmer State of Mind
Have you ever suffered from anxiety? Almost 1/4 of adults in the USA have. Have you tried running or a brisk walk to help? Chemicals released both during and after have been shown to help people experiencing anxiety. They feel calmer and more relaxed after the physical exertion. It's clear during these tough times, getting your body moving is a healthy way of cope.
I told you about running or walking helping with your creativity, but those of you analytical people out there (like me) may not be too impressed with that. Well, hold on to you pocket-protectors. It can also create new brain cells, improving overall brain performance - say what?!?! You have to really push yourself for this benefit. A strenuous run or walk increases brain-derived protein in the body. This protein is believed to help your learning, higher thinking, and decision-making power.
Motivation is a fleeting friend - isn't it? The fix is closer than you think - just a short run or walk away. Research studies with workers who took time for exercise regularly were more energetic and productive and than their less active peers. I get it, you're a busy person, but try different times of the day to get out. Even a brisk walk during your lunch break. If you work from home, try joining a meeting while walking on the treadmill. Some research shows midday is an ideal time to workout because it support's your body's circadian rhythms.
Prevention of Cognitive Decline
Running isn't a fix for Alzheimer's, but it does help. Exercise boosts your brain's ability to slow down and decreases cognitive decline - which can begin as early as age 45. Hitting that pavement now is banking cognition power for the future by boosting chemicals in the brain that both helps your hippocampus and prevents it from degenerating as quickly. The hippocampus is an important part of the brain, if you like remembering things.
A Sense of Belonging
Have you ever tried to fit in with a group, only to feel like you were an outsider? Have you longed for a place to belong? Races build those relationships. When you run a race, you meet like-minded people who want to stay healthy and enjoy doing many of the same things you enjoy. It's an atmosphere of welcoming acceptance - where you belong.
Creating Positive Relationships
Do you have a tribe? A group of people who just know you and have your back? My biggest supporters have come from the races, including my husband. We met at a race in Arizona and met each other again later in Utah, where we both lived. Racing builds community. It helps you create a tribe of supporters who let you know you're valued and loved - which is the number one factor in improving mental health. The next time you’re debating that run or walk, or you're just not sure about signing up for that race. Think of the benefits you're missing out on. Seize the moment and just go do it. You'll thank yourself (and me) later.