Tranquilizers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications account for 25% of all prescriptions written. But, as the
t-shirt wisely says: running is cheaper than therapy!
For those who currently run or vigorously walk for exercise, you know the stress release that is generated from a brisk walk or run. The euphoric feeling experienced while exercising is usually attributed to endorphins, which mask pain and produce a feeling of well-being. Researchers believe that running or briskly walking may increase the secretion of chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin—neurotransmitters that control our emotions and mood.
But it is not just the chemical influence that makes going for a run or brisk walk appealing. Runners will tell you it is 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 for the run, you return with feelings of renewed enthusiasm and energy. This “fresh off the run” feeling can sustain you throughout
the day with calmness, decisiveness, and clarity to intelligently assess potentially stressful situations.
As we cope with stress on the run (literally), it can lead to the realization that there is nothing we can do about some challenges, so why worry—just enjoy the run or walk. From there, the acceptance of enjoyment causes a rise in body temperature (resulting from the prolonged level of elevated activity) and helps promote increased muscle relaxation as well as decreased tension and stress.
When runners are asked what they are thinking about during a run, a common answer is: “nothing.” This diversion from our normal work, family and community responsibilities results in a feeling of freedom from our normal internal debates. This special time for runners or walkers becomes a relaxing and low-stress experience—similar to a child at play. Play activities for adults provide improved self-esteem, energy levels, endurance, strength, muscle definition, and cardiovascular function.
Running and walking can help stave off depression and give you a positive attitude in everything you do. It can polish up your self-image, awaken your sex life and give you a sense of “I feel good” overall. You will work, play and sleep better with an improved attitude toward life—not a bad payback for an investment of 30 to 45 minutes, five days a week.
To get the most out of a running or walking program, you should set an ultimate goal, a mid-term goal and a daily goal. For most runners, the daily goal might be just getting out the door and committing to a regular run. A mid-term goal could be a special event, like the CIBC Run for the Cure, or running a specific distance like a 10K. Your ultimate goal may be to run a half marathon or even a marathon in your favourite city. If your goals are intelligent and realistic, you are more likely to succeed; and with success comes the feeling of accomplishment. The real inner rewards come when you set goals that are slightly out of your reach, but still achievable.
Celebrating the successful attainment of a goal—five consecutive days of running, or crossing the finish line of a desired distance—uplifts the emotions of the runner and helps develop mental toughness and confidence. We should all practice this mental training in concert with our physical training. Running fires up the intuitive and creative side of our brain, inspiring us to think innovatively. We start to treat every day as a new challenge to improve individually in some way. Runners and athletes believe in themselves and in the people around them. Your life as a runner will become more enjoyable, and the folks you live with will find you more fun to be around.
Across Canada and the U.S., Running Room has helped thousands of couch potatoes transform into athletes—fitness walkers or runners. People join up with us for a variety of reasons, such as stress management, weight loss, or in response to a significant birthday. The interesting part is that while people might begin a walking or running training program for a certain reason, they continue to run and walk for the sheer pleasure and joy that the activity provides to their quality of life. You can do it, too! The decision is yours. Make the commitment, and together we can share the celebration of success.