A blog by runners. For runners.

How running can help relieve stress

How running helps relieve stressOne of my most memorable runs was a random 4-miler that should have been anything but memorable. I was having a rough day. The type I can barely recall now, years removed from having a colicky, refluxy 4-month-old who didn’t sleep.

I remember feeling exhausted and at the end of my rope. Like I had to do something or I was going to break. I remember my husband walking in the door around 8 p.m. It was already dark and cold, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even get changed into appropriate running clothes. I just put on my running shoes and ran as fast as I could for two miles out and two miles back.

I don’t remember my pace or if there was any time the run felt physically tough. But I remember feeling lighter with each step. Like the tiredness and frustration had literally built up in my body all day, and running was somehow causing it to seep out. I started the run feeling hopeless, but when I finished I felt refreshed and hopeful. That I could make it through the night – and whatever other challenged lied ahead.

How running eases stress
I’m sure many of us have memories of runs like this one. It’s amazing how a 30-minute jaunt around the block can ease stress and provide clarity. Running works to reduce stress levels in these ways:

  • It brings on an endorphin rush. We all know the “runner’s high” is a real thing. Endorphins are hormones that are secreted by the brain during runs. The reduce pain, combat stress, and make us feel good. Even if you’re not feeling stressed, it’s common to feel on top of the world at the end of a run.
  • It lets us give in to the “flight or fight” response. Years ago, when our ancestors were under attack they had two choices: fight their attacker or flee the situation. These days, stress comes in different forms and is usually more constant. However, our bodies still experience the physiological reaction of fight or flight. That’s why running may feel so good when we’re stressed. We literally get to flight and leave our problems behind, even if it’s only temporarily.
  • The rhythm of your foot turnover relaxes your mind. We often hear non-runners call our sport “mind-numbingly boring”. But we runners know that clearing the mind on a run is a good thing. The repetitive motion of putting one foot in front of the other is soothing and allows you to zone out. This can do wonders for your stress levels.

Keep your stress-free
If you want to run for stress relief, the best thing you can do is have no goals. Don’t time your run and don’t set out to cover a certain distance or route. Having goals will only make you more stressed. Instead, run unplugged and let your heart be your guide. Run as fast as you like for as long as it takes for your problems to feel just a little smaller.

Even though you can’t truly run away from life’s challenges, you’ll feel better prepared to take them on once you turn around and run back to them.

Written by Jen Matz.

RELATED What to do when running is the cause of your stress