Running for Happiness


“Exercise is medicine” is not just a saying; it is the truth. Much scientific evidence proves that regular exercise—running in particular—has health benefits that go far beyond any medicine a doctor could prescribe. Studies have shown that running can prevent obesity, type–2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, some cancers, and many other unpleasant conditions. Additionally, scientists have discovered that running also improves the quality of your emotional and mental life.

Running is an aerobic cardiovascular exercise that sends nourishing blood to the brain, which helps you think more clearly; it also makes your body release hormones like serotonin or dopamine, which help in alleviating depression. As it enhances your attention and focus, running is a viable treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It also promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.

Chronic stress and depression stop the birth of neurons, or neurogenesis in the brain, and shrink the hippocampus, which is the region in the brain responsible for learning and memory. This leads to cognitive deficits, where the patient has difficulty processing information and acting accordingly; running does the opposite and increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

With its ability to generate new nerve cells, running prevents neurodegenerative diseases as dementia, where the neurons lose their ability to function properly and eventually die. Consistent exercise can actually bring about structural changes to your hippocampus, slow down neurodegeneration, and improve learning and memory retention. It can particularly help the patients of type-2 diabetes, who have higher risks of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Not only that, but running also stimulates the body to release endorphins, which are popularly known as happiness hormones. They are secreted in maximum quantity when your body is subjected to intense exercise—such as running—which increases blood circulation to the brain, prodding the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis into releasing the endorphins. As a result, your body deals with stress better.

According to a study conducted in 2017 and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health “30 minutes of running during the week for three weeks boosts sleep quality, mood, and concentration during the day”. Another study in Physiological Behavior showed that running causes the same kind of neurochemical adaptations in brain reward pathways that are shared by addictive drugs.

Scientists found that running was as effective as an intervention for depression as psychotherapy. When study participants were assigned to one of three groups—a running group, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) group, and a group that received both interventions—the three groups experienced a similarly significant decline in depressive symptoms, with little difference in outcome between the running and CBT groups.

Additionally, when you are under stress your muscles may be tense, especially your face, neck, and shoulder muscles, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

Running is an effective way to break this cycle. Besides releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better, your mind will be better as well.

Even moderate amounts of exercise can make a huge difference to your health and wellbeing. It does not matter what your age or fitness level is, use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better. You can start slow, but you have to start now.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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