Can Running Therapy Help Improve Mental Health?

Running is an incredibly relaxing activity. So much so that people all over the world use it as a way to reset or recharge after a bad day or rough week.

In fact, running therapy, where a person runs as they talk through their problems, has become increasingly popular over the years.

As such, many people may wonder, can running actually improve your mental health?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Not only has the activity proven to aid with certain disorders, but it can also reduce stress and act as a way to improve everyday life. In this guide, we will break down why that is.

Running therapy for Clinical Depression

While it may sound surprising, research shows that running helps people deal with clinical depression. In fact, one study concluded that regular aerobic activity reduced the symptoms with the same effectiveness as psychotherapy.

In the trial, the team assigned the subjects to three groups: a running group, a cognitive behavioral therapy group, and a group that received both interventions.

All three experienced a similar decline in depressive symptoms.

That evidence builds on other trials that suggest running is a great way to handle or decrease depressive symptoms. Some research on the topic has also found that the exercise may be able to treat depression as well as antidepressant medication.

There are several reasons regular running can improve mental problems, and one of the largest is because it promotes neural growth and reduces inflammation. Such processes then create new activity patterns that tend to enhance calm or positive feelings.

As many regular runners know, exercise also releases endorphins. Those chemicals act as a natural euphoria and make you feel good.

Running to Reduce Anxiety and Improve Sleep

Another benefit of running in terms of mental health is that it reduces anxiety. This is also caused by endorphin release and shows why exercise is so beneficial to those who find themselves constantly overwhelmed.

Not only does regular exercise help with anxiety by releasing calming chemicals, but the act itself can be very therapeutic.

Getting into a set breathing rhythm as you run, or paying extra attention to the world around you, can be extremely calming and help you become less stressed.

Past research also shows that running can help people with their sleep. We live in a busy world, and sometimes it is hard to get a completely restful night. However, certain studies have linked regular running with better sleeping habits.

previous trial in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that running helped people with sleep problems rest for an extra 1.5 hours a night. The team in the research also linked running to regulated circadian rhythms, heightened daytime alertness, and an overall deeper sleep. The act helped the subjects fall asleep faster and lessened the symptoms of insomnia as well.

A Great Way to Reduce Stress

When looking at the above benefits, it should come as no surprise that running comes with a range of mental benefits.

Sleep, depression, and anxiety are some of the biggest, but it has also been shown to help with the problems that come from general stress.

Stress can easily build up throughout day-to-day life and cause many health problems, including heartburn, insomnia, and muscle cramps. Running, with its natural endorphin release and calming agents, helps fight that in a natural way.

This is one of the biggest reasons people turn to running therapy, and the exercise can be extremely beneficial regardless of what weighs you down.

Often, stress ends up causing you problems, which then build up more stress.

Running helps break that cycle and gives you a way to cut down on your anxiety without turning to medication.

In addition to that reduced stress, clinical trials have also linked regular runs to numerous other mental benefits. It has been shown to help with ADHD treatment, reduce trauma, and even improve self-esteem (which also aids in fighting depression).

Some research also shows that running may make people smarter by improving memory, enhancing creativity, and building up cognitive function.

A Natural Way to Improve your Mind

Exercise is one of the best ways to naturally improve mental health.

Whether you engage in running therapy, or if you simply like to go on runs by yourself, there is no doubt that it has numerous benefits for all parts of the brain.

Stress, anxiety, and depression can all hamper life in their own way.

Running helps combat them all.

Even if you aren’t suffering from one of those issues, regular jogs can work to naturally strengthen your mind. Whatever your reason, there is no doubt that regular exercise will make you a happier person in the long run.

Featured image credit: CC0 Creative Commons, skeeze via

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