Running Improves Mental Health

Author profile image of Robert Marshall
Author: Robert Marshall
Last Updated:
Lady Running in Leeds

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Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March 2020, everyone has been under a considerable amount of pressure. A continual merry go round of change and transition. 

National and local lockdowns. Unable to see friends and family. The government has since shared their own research that connects these events to a widespread spike in poor mental health. Surprised? We aren’t!

However, there is a glimmer of positivity!

Running is a habit that can ease the effects of poor mental health, particularly during stressful periods of our lives.  It can fit around what you can do and what you need to do. The result is a powerful shift in the health of our mind and body.

So Why Running? copy-link-to-section

Why not some other exercise or sport?

Running is a no frills cheap way to get a good dose of physical activity. What’s more you can run solo or with people depending on your mood and your run. Yet, it’s worth considering your starting point, and if that’s from a place of unwellness, start by being kind to yourself.  

Make realistic goals and expectations to avoid big disappointments. If you’re starting to run from scratch why not use the Couch to 5k app and ease yourself in with a walk-jog combo. 

It can certainly be hard to get going when it comes to running. One of the most common barriers to starting is knowing where to run. is a resource that removes the barrier of ‘where to run’. You can search by postcode location and find out all you need to know before your run: where to park?; where the nearest toilet is?; and a trackable route map! 

Runners Get High copy-link-to-section

As a runner you’re probably well acquainted with that gorgeous euphoric release known as an ‘endorphin high’. Interestingly, going against everything we have been told, endorphins are involved but they aren’t the cause!

David J. Linden, Ph.D. is a professor from John Hopkins University that has revealed the real science behind the runner’s high. Once you finish an energetic run you trigger the endocannabinoid system which releases chemicals that have an effect very similar to Cannabis. That’s where the euphoric feeling comes from.

Busting Stress copy-link-to-section

Individuals that are inflicted by poor mental health are often in a state of stress. Regular stress can inflame the peripheral area of the brain; a recurring low mood is common and a state of depression the extreme result. 

Stress Busting in Leeds

Professor Linden has shown running to actually reduce the inflammatory spikes on the brain. This is because running has a “dramatic anti-depressive effect”. It blunts the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress. With more blood pumping to the brain it reduces the effects of anxiety and depression. The result is an elevated mood. A mood that people like Michael attest to maintaining a positive level of mental health for years.

“Where my mental ill health draws me away from my body and into my brain, running does the opposite. Feeling my blood pumping, my lungs gasping and my muscles stretching, I find myself pulled back to the present and my immediate surroundings.”

Emily Cotter, Leeds Mind, Marketing, PR & Communications Officer supports Michael’s experience.

“We know running can help with better sleep and lifting your mood. Running can also help manage stress and anxiety, acting as a mindful activity to calm racing thoughts and clear your mind.”

Get Better Sleep copy-link-to-section

By the end of the day the gradual wind down into a healthy sleeping routine is actually encouraged if you’ve run that day. The chemicals mentioned earlier ‘endocannabinoids’ we release when we run settle the body into a state of relaxation and deep sleep.  A day in which running and exercise made those difficult moments not as daunting.

Emotional processing copy-link-to-section

In tandem with bettering your brainpower, running also helps us process our emotions and memories. Running supports the healthy functioning of a part of the brain called the hippocampus – when depression takes hold this area of your noggin can shrink, so it’s important to give an extra lift to the electrical activity upstairs by moving more.

Summary copy-link-to-section

Starting to run regularly provides continued benefits for the individual – stress busting; brain boosting; and better sleeping – that rise the more you do, from 30 minutes to about 300 minutes a week. It is at around 300 minutes where the mental health benefits of running reach a peak. 

Running can help tailor your capacities and needs; it can lead the mind and body into long-term success. When used regularly, running can have a transformational edge. Factoring it into your weekly routine – as little as a mile a time – will begin to accelerate those benefits for you.   

Yet, not every person can expect running alone to bring about change in themselves and their circumstances. One running shoe doesn’t fit every foot out there. Below is a list of services in Leeds that are professionally trained and resourced to support you in your time of crisis. If you’re experiencing an acute episode of poor mental health contact one of the following:

Author profile image of Robert Marshall
Robert Marshall

Rob has been a resident of Leeds for over a decade, having moved here as a student and lived in various parts of the city. With a love for exploring Leeds’ parks, woods, and the local food and drink scene, he is always on the lookout for hidden spots. Spending time exploring the city has led to discovering places that offer a break from the busy urban life or a taste of Leeds’ diverse culinary offerings.


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