by John Stanton
If you currently run or walk for exercise, you are familiar with the stress release it can generate. The euphoric feeling experienced while exercising is usually attributed to endorphins, which mask pain and produce an overall feeling of well-being. Scientists believe that running or brisk walking can increase the secretion of neurotransmitters that control our emotions and mood, including dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
However, it is not just the chemical influence that makes going for a run or up-tempo walk so appealing. It is also the feeling of mastery that comes from the accomplishment of completing a challenging session. Even on the days when you have to drag yourself out the door, you return with renewed enthusiasm and energy. This refreshed feeling can sustain you throughout the day with calmness, decisiveness, and clarity to intelligently assess potentially stressful situations.
A walk or run can also become a “moving meditation” session. As your focus shifts to simply enjoying the moment, the continued activity and elevated heart rate cause a rise in body temperature, which decreases tension and promotes muscle relaxation.
When people are asked what they think about during a solo run or walk, a common answer is: “nothing.” The activity provides a welcome distraction from work, family and community responsibilities, resulting in a feeling of freedom from the usual internal debates. It can offer a temporary escape from the worries of the day. It also provides a sense of control, as you independently decide on your route, your distance and your pace.
Aerobic activities (including running and brisk walking) help fire up the intuitive and creative side of your brain, inspiring innovative thinking and more effective problem-solving. The physical exertion will help you sleep more soundly and wake up with a clearer mind the next day. As you commit to a daily routine, you will begin to have greater faith in your ability to cope with challenges. In running and walking—as in life—the best advice is to take things one step at a time.
John Stanton is the President and Founder of the Running Room. He is the author of 10 books about running, walking and family fitness.