We all know that running is great for our physical health. It improves cardiovascular fitness, reduces body fat, builds strength, and improves circulation. But what about our mental health?
The link between exercise and improved mental health is not new, many studies over the years have made the connection the two. But as the body of research grows, it becomes clear that regular exercise – especially physical activity outdoors – should not simply be a supplementary method to improve our mood, but a key part of any strategy to combat depression, anxiety, and the general stress of daily life.
While some people run to get fit, there are many who run simply because it makes them happy, and happiness is not trivial. How you feel about yourself, your life, and the world is just as important as the mechanical workings of your body. In fact, science suggests that mental health may even be a stronger predictor of life expectancy than physical health, or even heavy smoking.
Even half an hour of daily exercise has been observed to improve people’s subjective mood and well-being. A meta-analysis of studies relating to mood and physical activity looked specifically at people who engaged in casual physical activity, rather than competitive sport, and found that those who had active lifestyles reported feeling in a better mood and having better overall well-being than those who did not.
Life is not about struggling to maintain a fantastic, ecstatic mood at all times. Instead, it is about knowing how to maintain balance and a sense of calm in even the toughest of moments, until your back on top once more.
Again, this is all about getting out of your mind for a while and better connecting with your body and spirit. Movement can really help us to achieve this, as it gives you something to focus on other than the negative thoughts spinning around your head.
A person’s walk is a good indicator of how he or she is feeling—a slumped, sluggish gait might indicate sadness or distress, while someone with a bounce in her step is clearly in high spirits. Now a small new study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggests that the reverse may work, as well. Changing your walk could just change your mood along with it.