Mental Health Benefits of Running

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

Physical exercise has many health benefits. When you exercise and run, endorphins and serotonin are released in your body -- chemicals in your brain that improve your mood.  Running regularly at a moderate or vigorous level can improve your mental health. Running also improves your memory and ability to learn.

Running outside has other benefits, like lessening feelings of loneliness and isolation. Running can reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. It can also improve your sleep habits.

Benefits of Running

Running regularly can provide consistent boosts to your overall feelings of happiness. Running can be a method of making your body and mind feel better. Running has the following effects on your mental health: 

Reduces stress. After your run, endocannabinoids are released in your body, which is a biochemical substance similar to cannabis. This naturally produced chemical in your body floods your bloodstream and moves into the brain. This provides short-term feelings of reduced stress and calm.

Boosts your mood. Running reduces anxiety and depression. When you run, blood circulation to the brain is increased and the part of your brain that responds to stress and improves your mood is affected. This causes a change that temporarily improves your reaction to stressful situations. 

Helps you recover from mental health issues. Some studies show that regular running can have the same effects as medication in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Running is encouraged during therapy and recovery to alleviate some symptoms of mental illness.  

Improves sleep. Running has been shown to help you set a normal sleep schedule. Chemicals released during and after running relax your body and encourage deep sleeping. Having a regular sleep schedule is good for your brain and improves your mental health

Running for just 50 minutes each week at a moderate pace can lower your risk of heart disease. It’s healthier for your mind and body to run a little each week.

Running Tips

A lot of people struggle to set a running routine or don't feel motivated to run. The most important thing for your mental health is to get moving as much as you can. 

Move for at least 30 minutes. Get moving 3 to 5 times a week. Start small and set daily goals. Consistency is better than having a perfect run or going long distances. Making sure you are running regularly is the most important for improving your mental health.

Get an exercise buddy. Finding a friend to run with you will help keep you both accountable to your running schedule. This person can be a friend, partner, or colleague. They can also keep you company on your runs. 

Give yourself time. It takes time to start and keep up with a running routine. You may not always have a great run, but you shouldn’t be discouraged. If you weren’t physically active before, it could take 4 to 8 weeks to feel like you can run comfortably. 

Be gentle with yourself and your body. You know your body best, so be mindful of how you're feeling. If running makes you feel stressed, another form of movement for a while or slow down your runs.

Limits of Running as a Mood Booster

Because running makes you feel good, you may want to run without breaks. However, your body needs time to rest. If you don’t let your body heal in between runs, you could be prone to strains or sprains in your legs and feet. 

Running too much can hurt your physical and mental health. You don’t want to overwork your body. It’s best to spend at least a quarter of the time you’re working out at a low-intensity level. If you feel your body straining, try jogging or a brisk walk. Even taking a break from running and doing another activity like biking instead can help. 

Pushing yourself to your physical limits can harm your mental health. Active rest can be beneficial for your body and mind. You don’t want to be consumed with running. Mindful resting will help your body long-term. 

Show Sources


American Psychological Association: “The exercise effect.”

Anxiety & Depression Association of America: “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Running for health: Even a little bit is good, but a little more is probably better.”

healthdirect: “Exercise and mental health.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “The Truth Behind ‘Runner’s High’ and Other Mental Benefits of Running.”

The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Exercise for Mental Health.”

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