I’ve been a runner most of my life, mainly because I enjoy it and it makes me feel good. But when I unexpectedly wound up in prison for several years, it became much more than just an extracurricular activity. It was my salvation – something I became dependent on each day in order to keep my mental sanity intact. Whenever I wanted to clear my head or make an important decision, I laced up my shoes and hit the pavement.
Running, I find, gives me peace of mind and clarity during the times I need it most.
Run For Your Life
As it turns out, a good run has the healing power to turn a bad day around. It has a proven impact on the mental well-being of the runner, and experts have identified a link between this aerobic exercise and subsequent cognitive clarity.
More specifically, vigorous aerobic activity (i.e. running) has recently been found to produce new neurons in the brain, something neuroscientists didn’t think possible once a person reached adulthood. And interestingly enough, these new neurons are popping up in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory. So not only are we working up a sweat, we’re improving our memory, as well.
Other changes occur in the brain, specifically in the area located right behind the forehead (frontal lobe). Studies show that vigorous activity causes a rush of blood to flow to this region, leading to the “clearer thinking” many of us struggle to regain in recovery (think increased focus, better time management and ability to plan long-term). This blood rush to the brain also helps in stabilizing mood, which explains why we’re instantly put in a better mindset after going on a long run.
Right Here, Right Now
But there’s another big mental benefit to gain from running: mindfulness (AKA the act of mentally being right here, right now).
Mindfulness encourages individuals to sit quietly with themselves and recognize their thoughts and feelings. It enables one to stay in the present and focus on all the positive things going on, instead of the negative ones. This is especially helpful during early recovery – it’s a way of thinking that promotes humility and self-awareness, as well as one that invokes gratitude.
With all these cognitive benefits, investing in a pair of good running shoes seems like a no-brainer. In truth, when you factor in all the mood- and recovery-boosting effects, indulging in a healthy runner’s high should rank at the top of your to-do list. What are you waiting for?
Additional Reading: 5 Ways Mindfulness Steers Us on the Road to Recovery
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