By Ross Sweeney, Linden Oaks Behavioral Health
Congratulations, you’ve committed to running a half or full marathon this fall! The Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon & Marathon are just six short months away and I’m sure your training is well underway. But while you busy yourself making plans, setting goals and doing all the hard physical work that comes with training, don’t let the impressive emotional benefits long distance running offers go unnoticed.
As the chronic care coordinator at Linden Oaks, I’ve seen firsthand how consistent exercise, like running, can positively affect people’s lives and emotional health. As a therapist and dad, running has been invaluable to my own personal health and stress management. I’m happy to share that I’m training right along with you as I prepare to run my sixth Chicago Marathon this fall.
Most people know the many cardiovascular benefits of running for our bodies, but have you considered the emotional benefits running offers? Here are a few you can expect:
A better mood. Running assists the body in producing neurotransmitters in the brain that literally boost one’s mood. Increased dopamine and serotonin simply help improve outlook and mood and, in some cases, can offer critical relief to those dealing with symptoms of anxiety or depression. Many runners also experience a rush of endorphins, chemicals that help the body deal with pain and stress, during a challenging run. For many, the good feelings running produces can lead to a healthy routine and a naturally therapeutic way of counteracting life’s obstacles.
Increased self-esteem. An ongoing physical fitness plan of any kind leaves participants feeling more fit, which on its own raises self-confidence. Running allows tangible results and successes to be realized quickly, which can be especially motivating for new runners. Setting and achieving goals feels pretty great and offers an even greater lift in self-esteem.
Improved mental focus. Studies show the oxygen-rich blood the act of running pumps to the brain may result in long-term improvement in mental processes. In addition, it also helps focus attention on the here and now. Being present—or living in the moment—is necessary during longer runs and helps runners set aside past regrets and future worries. In essence, quieting the chatter in our minds and ceasing rumination over things beyond our control gives much needed time away from concerns and decreases overall stress. Who doesn’t need that?
Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or lacing up your first pair of running shoes, congratulations again. The road ahead will be challenging, but the numerous rewards are well worth your effort and commitment. See you on the trails!
Ross Sweeney, LCSW
Marathoner and Chronic Care Clinic Coordinator
Linden Oaks Behavioral Health