Over the course of the summer, I set an aim to retain some of my fitness from cross-country and so have kept up running and cardio interval training, (so I can still eat all the ice cream I want to!) But on a more serious note, running gives me space and time to be in my own head space and enjoy the outdoors, especially given the weather is usually pretty sunny – I’m a fair-weather kind of runner.
During my last term at school I was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks and to find an escape I found running gave me a good release. It produces all the same symptoms as a panic attack: out of breath, hot, sweaty; but I’m in control. I know why my body is doing what it does and so it adds familiarity to the unknown. A brain imaging study led by David Raichlen at the University of Arizona shows that meditation and running can have similar effects on the brain; simultaneously engaging executive functions and tuning down the chatter of the default mode network. I mean this makes sense, when I’m in the midst of a run, I am immersed in the present moment, tuned into my bodily state and conscious of my breathing.
The connection between running and mental health I think is more obvious when you remind yourself that your brain is just another bodily organ, what you choose to do with your body will, inevitably have psychological consequences. I sometimes experience the ‘runner’s high’ which is when all the feel-good endorphins are released and it suddenly the burn in your legs feels worth it.
Running provides a distraction and the power to ignore all the negative stuff which can flow into your brain, from friends, family and my own overthinking. I’ve never been very good at meditation, well not sure I have given it a proper chance, but the simplicity of changing your mindset whilst running provides awareness of your breath and a sense of presence in the moment. Mindfulness is the power of ‘thinking about your thinking’ and for me running does this – and its good exercise, even if it burns and I wonder how much further I have to go.