It is widely recognised that running can improve mental health by releasing feel-good endorphins and contributing to overall health. Looking after physical and mental well-being is vital to overall well-being and helps to reduce stress.
Many people who have regular running routines already know the benefits to their mental health and see improved fitness levels. Some people may have even begun their running programme to improve their mental health! However, it is important to understand that mental health is a journey, with uphill struggles and stumbles along the way.
Although regular exercise and training can help to manage anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders, it is not a one-track race to total health. In fact, in 2019 the International Olympic Committee found that more than 33 percent of elite athletes experienced anxiety and depression, a high number in comparison to the 13 percent of the population worldwide who experience some form of mental disorder.
Therefore, preconceptions about exercising being enough to ‘heal’ mental health disorders need to be challenged. In response, the IOC shared a mental health toolkit, and we think it’s a practice that every keen runner should consider.
Having a well-rounded mental health strategy can help runners to continually progress with their training, while also leaning on running and exercise as a mental health coping mechanism.
In this article, we will run through some steps to help you create a mental health strategy as part of your running routine. From listening to your mind and body, taking a holistic approach to training and the importance of routine, read on to find out our top tips.
Take A Holistic Approach
Consider incorporating holistic practices when managing mental health and your training. Running can make a huge impact on your body, largely for the better. However, complimenting a high-impact running routine with gentle exercises or stretching can aid quick recovery for muscles.
Increasingly, alternative therapies are being used within anxiety treatments and for burnout rehabilitation. While practicing mindfulness, meditation and yoga can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, it is also important to consider what you’re eating and how you’re fueling your body and brain, to benefit both.
Taking a holistic approach to your training and your mental health means factoring in lifestyle changes that will increase your ability to look after and maintain the well-being of your whole being.
Keep A Routine
Familiarity and keeping a routine can often help relieve feelings of anxiety or worry. Similarly, running regularly will maintain levels of energy and emotion boosting endorphins. So, creating a weather-proof running routine will mean that you can keep some consistency in your training.
Whether you prefer trails to treadmills, sprinting by the sea or jogging in a gym, combining both indoor and outdoor routes will mean you can go for a run safely whenever you want, or indeed to.
While reconnecting with, and surrounding yourself in nature can give your mental health a great boost, outdoor running may not be the safest option. Embracing alfresco runs when the sun is shining, and heading to the gym when the weather turns will mean that you can keep to your running schedule, whatever the weather.
Listen To Your Body (and your brain).
Sometimes, you may not feel like going for a run. And that’s ok! While it is helpful to stick to a regular routine, life doesn’t always allow you to follow a strict regime.
Hormonal fluctuations, outside factors that you are unable to control, foresee or predict and unexpected mood alterations can all lead to you not wanting to head out for that run.
Similarly, if you have to rest due to injury, don’t be tempted to run again before you are healed and ready, as this could lead to further, serious injury and in turn, even more time not running.
It’s important not to beat yourself up about missing one or a few runs. You may find that you feel guilty or like a failure. This can then stop you from getting back into your rhythm, or bring on negative feelings and emotions towards yourself, affecting your mental health.
To avoid spiralling into a bad mental health period, remind yourself that it’s just one run. Try not to let it impact the following day and pick up where you left off. Remember that one missed run won’t undo all your hard work.
Moving your body and maintaining good mental health levels often crop up in the same conversations. We know that exercise can help to release happy hormones, and improving your physical strength does have a strong relationship with mental resilience.
But, it is just as important to consider crafting your personal mental health strategy as a runner. This means looking at all aspects of your lifestyle and how it can contribute to your mind and body health.
Understanding what helps you stick to a routine, finding routes that you enjoy, complimenting high-intensity runs with thorough stretching and considering alternative activities to holistically help improve your mental health, alongside aiding your training programme could result in a happier, healthier human.