Mental Health Benefits of Running

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 09, 2023
4 min read

Physical exercise has many health benefits. When you run, endorphins and serotonin are released in your body -- chemicals that may improve mood.  Studies show regular running at a moderate or vigorous pace can improve your mental health and even your memory and ability to learn.

Running outside could have other benefits, like lessening feelings of loneliness and isolation, reducing the effects of stress, and helping with depression and anxiety. 

There are a number of ways that running helps with 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 and could improve your physical and mental response to stressful situations. 

Boosts your mood. Running may lessen anxiety and depression in some people. It won't make depression disappear overnight, but it could help you manage the symptoms. Some studies suggest regular running can have the same effects as medication in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Improves sleep. Running may help you set a normal sleep schedule, according to some studies. Chemicals released during and after running relax your body and encourage deep sleeping. Having a regular sleep schedule is good for your brain and may improve your mental health. Some studies show that running too close to bedtime could have the opposite effect.

Improves physical health. Running for just 50 minutes each week at a moderate pace can lower your risk of heart disease. When you hit the road to jog,  you build muscle, improve your heart health, and take care of your brain. This could all help you feel better mentally and have a sense of accomplishment.  

Boost brainpower. Running and other cardiovascular exercises help create new brain cells. This can lead to improved brain performance in some people.  

A lot of people struggle to set a running routine or don't feel motivated to run. There are some things you can do to get started and stay on track:

Move for at least 30 minutes. Get moving three to five times a week. Start small and set daily goals. Consistency is better than having a perfect run or going long distances.  

Get an exercise buddy. Finding a friend to run with you will help keep you both accountable to your running schedule. They can also keep you company on your runs and keep you honest about your routine. 

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, try another form of movement for a while or slow down your runs.

Talk to your doctor. If you’re worried about your health or haven't exercised in a while, talk to your doctor about the best way to start. 

Walk for warm-up. Before you start running, it's a good idea to build up your fitness level. Overdoing it before you're ready could do more harm than good. Consider some simple stretching and strength training routines to go along with running. These can help keep you healthy and pain-free.
Set smart goals. Find a safe routine to develop your running program. It can help to write it down: How many days a week do you want to exercise and for how many minutes each day? Writing it down may also make it more real for you so that you're more likely to follow it. You also can use many exercise apps to track your running routine and progress.

Because running may make you feel better, you may want to run without breaks. However, your body needs time to rest. If you don’t let your body heal between runs, you could be cause strains or sprains in your legs and feet. Take a day off between runs, especially if you notice any pain.

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.