Cardio and Mental Health: Why Running is Good for the Mind
Mind feeling a little cloudy lately? Not sure why you're feeling down in the dumps?
There might not be a particular reason, so much as your body is just running on low. Sometimes our mental health declines when our physical health isn't being tended to.
It feels like there should be a conceptual reason for your mood, but it might just be that your body needs a workout. We're going to take a look at the connection between cardio and mental health today, giving you some insight into why running can improve your mind in a big way.
The Relationship Between Cardio and Mental Health
Cardiovascular exercise is easy to define. It's just an extended period of time that your resting heart rate is higher than normal.
You could get more specific than that if you wanted to fine-tune an exercise routine, but beginners only need to know the definition above. That's why walking is considered cardio.
If you go for a walk, your heart rate will increase and stay elevated until you stop walking. Speed things up, and your heart rate will increase, your blood will pump a little quicker, and your body will distribute oxygen more rapidly.
There are myriad reasons that cardio benefits your physical health, but there isn't as much talk about why it benefits your mental health.
For one, exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are released when we accomplish something or achieve some biological goal. Sex, for example, is packed with endorphins.
The same goes for eating a delicious meal or winning a competition. Endorphins are feel-good drugs that our brain feeds us to incentivize the repetition of that activity.
If the things we needed didn't feel good, we'd be less prone to doing them.
The endorphins you get from a daily running schedule will be present in your brain and body throughout the day. The feeling might wear off after a while, but the positive mood that comes from exercise will linger.
Release from Thinking
The grip of difficult thoughts and emotions can be devastating. In many cases, there isn't a way to think through bouts of depression or anxiety. We tend to find that thinking more might make the situation a little bit worse.
Whether you're in the midst of major depression or you just have a tough decision to make, running can help you shed those thoughts for a period of time.
It's a challenge to keep a smooth train of thought while you're running, let alone dwell on the things that are keeping you up at night.
A release from those thoughts can give you a better perspective on them after your run. You'll be buzzing with endorphins and the positivity that come with them, and you might just be able to calm those neural pathways enough to make some headway.
Constant thinking and worrying takes us out of the moment and deeper into our heads. Removing ourselves from that process now and then can have positive implications for our lives.
Improved Neural Connectivity
Connections throughout the regions of our brains are important for keeping a general mood in place. When our brain is connecting with itself, our memory improves, brain function allows a steady mood, and there are fewer imbalances that cause distress.
Those who run often have shown to have greater connectivity among regions of the brain. Most impacted is the frontal cortex.
This is the region of the brain that deals most with decision-making, complex thought, planning, concentration, and insight. Those are things that come into play every single day.
Think about your mental health when your concentration is low, you can't plan, your thoughts aren't clear, and you can't make a decision. Any one of those things can be devastating and derail your internal environment.
Release of Anxiety and Stress
Stress is a primary contributor to difficulties with mental health. Stress feeds mental illness, and mental illness feeds stress. Exercise produces natural stress-relievers like endorphins and GABA, which calm you.
Even if exercise doesn't attack the cause of stress, it lightens the load and allows you to get a decent handle on it. Sometimes, mental illness produces the false idea that there's no way out of your internal situation.
When you chip away at that myth and realize that there are things that can benefit your mental health, you start to see other options for recovery in a new light.
Feelings of Accomplishment
Finally, it's important to acknowledge the value of improved self-image. We feel good when we go running, especially when we haven't done it in a while.
Especially when we don't think we have much else to feel good about at that time. Accomplishing a run or two early on will give you a significant confidence boost. That boost could be the first domino to fall in your effort to improve your mental health.
Alternatively, increasing your confidence and self-image can help to prevent mental illness from forming in the first place. The relationship between self-image and the onset of mental health is significant.
The way we treat ourselves plays directly into how healthy and happy our minds are. We might think less of ourselves and do fewer things to keep ourselves happy. Further, the cycle of negative thinking might create a lifestyle where negative health indicators are more common.
Running and exercising makes us feel good about ourselves, breaking the chain of negative thinking and self-talk. we get a respite from the knot of unhealthy thinking and substitute that knot for a healthy dose of endorphins.
Add in greater connectivity in the frontal lobe, and you've got a fighting chance of warding off mental illness.
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