I started with the Couch to 5K program, chugged along, and finished my first unofficial 5K in about 37 minutes. Shortly after I started the program, a long-term relationship I had been in ended. The next day, I went for a run and took 8 minutes off my 5K PR.
From that point on, I fully understood what people meant when they said they use running as therapy.
A growing body of research is showing how exercise, like running, can have dramatic positive effects on mood. Major depressive disorder is linked to a decrease in neurogenesis (the process of making new neurons in the brain) and exercise has been found to promote the growth of new neurons. Another study compared the effects of walking versus relaxation techniques on rates of depression:
Researchers had college students facing a major depressive episode begin exercise walking. After 10 days, the results were compared with a similar group whose members had been told to do stretching and relaxation exercises. The proportion of walkers reporting a significant decline in depression was 65 percent, compared with 22 percent for the relaxation group.
The dramatic results don’t end there. Another experiment was held that involved 80 adults aged 20 to 45 who had been diagnosed with mild to moderated depression. When they began participating in 30 minute aerobic exercise sessions 3-5x a week, their depressive symptoms were cut in half after just 12 weeks!
Of course, if someone is suffering from major depressive disorder, they should see a licensed therapist or doctor. For those of us who suffer from mild depression or anxiety due to every day life (such as myself!), it would be great to commit to 3 months of moderate exercise a few times a week to see what positive effects may take place. I know firsthand that the increase in energy I experience after working out helps me manage stress better. The endorphins coursing through my system after a long run provide a wonderful natural high, and when I really need a quick break, I know a moment of peace is just a few miles away.