Heading for a run is almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face, says Claire Chamberlain. But when it comes to the mental health benefits of running, is there a difference between doing harder sessions and running for fun?
When it comes to happiness and good mental health, it’s well known that exercise gives you a great boost. In fact, a recent survey by mental health charity Mind (www.mind.org.uk), conducted as part of its Ecominds project, found that 94 per cent of respondents said green exercise (exercising outdoors in nature) improved their mental health. As a runner, this can go further still – you are no doubt familiar with that ‘runner’s high’ you get on the back of a run. This occurs because vigorous exercise releases endorphins – the feel-good hormone – which has an effect similar to taking an anti-depressant. So, if exercise is nature’s natural happiness drug, then we all need to start pulling our trainers on more often!
Little and often
You don’t need to be out running for hours at a time to get the feel-good benefits, either. Running just three times a week for 30 minutes each time is enough to start relieving stress and depression, and to start making you feel better about yourself – and the effects are pretty immediate. Of course, there is also a cumulative effect – regular running for more than a year as opposed to stopping after just six weeks will see you reap more happiness benefits.
But what about the types of runs you do? Is there more benefit in doing a harder interval session or a long marathon-training run, than a nice jog through the countryside? Not necessarily, says running coach Phoebe Thomas.
‘I think every run has a positive mental effect,’ she says. ‘You can finish any run and feel much better mentally than when you went out.’
However, there’s a lot to be said for pushing yourself that bit harder during your training. ‘It comes down to that sense of achievement, too,’ Phoebe continues. ‘You can go out and do a shorter, relaxed recovery run and you can feel great because you enjoyed running, but with the harder sessions, such as a threshold or interval session, you can be on an absolute high afterwards, because you’ve achieved something that you were slightly nervous about.’
Every run counts
But what about those sessions where you can’t seem to get into your stride and for some reason, you’re not feeling it?
‘The best tip I can give you is to concentrate on the things that have gone well in training, as opposed to the things that haven’t’ Phoebe reminds. ‘I really believe that every run can have a positive slant to it, whatever that may be, and you should just find the positive and move on.’
But for some people, the long run is actually the thing they find frightening, so that type of person may enjoy going out for a shorter run, where they build the pace up and set themselves a different type of challenge. But regardless of the type of run you do, the endorphins that are released through running in general should make you all come back feeling positive, buzzing and happy.
It’s also worth noting that sometimes heaping pressure on yourself to achieve a new race PB can actually cause more stress, thus negating the happiness benefits.
The reason 99 per cent of us entered the sport is because we just want to enjoy going for a run. Sometimes we all have to remember the reason we started running. Because along the journey we can all lose sight of why running is important to us and what it really means. Fall back in love with running. Because when you’re in love with running, you feel great.