How Running Helps With Depression

by Jim Richardson | Last Updated: April 28, 2020

Depression afflicts millions of people worldwide. More than being just sad or moody, depression is both mentally and physically debilitating that it affects how you deal with everyday life. So, how can running help with depression?

Photo by Tom Wheatley on Unsplash

What you’ll learn in this article:

✓ How is depression different from feeling sad?
✓ How running can help with depression?
✓ What is runners high?
✓ The helpful hormones that running produces

Exercise will probably be the last thing on your mind when you suffer from depression. Making that physical effort may seem to be a monumental task! But any kind of movement as simple as walking around, running or playing your favorite sport can help stave off the effects of depression.

Depression In Check 

Being sad, lonely, anxious or moody doesn’t automatically mean you’re depressed. To differentiate whether or not you’re just feeling the blues, scientists have come up with a list of symptoms that pertain to being in a depressed state.

This is known as SIGECAPS, which consist of the following:

S – Sleep disturbances
I – Interest is diminished
G – Guilty, or feeling sorry for yourself
E – Energy loss
C – Concentration is impaired
A – Appetite changes
P – Psychomotor impairment
S – Suicidal thoughts

You can do a self-test to see if you’re depressed. Are you constantly experiencing four or more of the outlined symptoms in the span of a couple of weeks? If so, then you’ll need help.

What Causes Depression? 

In scientific terms, depression happens when there’s an inbalance in the brain’s chemicals due to biological, psychological and social aspects. Some of the most common causes of depression include genetics, medical conditions and stress.

Depression can have slight variations depending on the individual, but these are more or less the symptoms- reckless behavior, significant loss of energy and motivation, isolation, noticeable weight loss or gain, highly strung, a change in sleeping patterns and a general feeling of apathy.

How Running Can Help 

Running as an exercise can certainly bring about a number of beneficial things! Aside from keeping you in great shape, running can also build confidence, allow you to interact within a community and keep your mind sharp.

The good news is that anyone can run and still get all the physical, emotional and mental benefits that running provides. You can take up running as leisure or go for something more competitive, like a marathon.

A new study published by the American College of Cardiology ( shows how running can benefit individuals in a number of ways:

Gain Greater Confidence

Completing goals, even small ones make one feel proud of their achievements. Running can boost your self-esteem, allowing you to focus on getting in shape instead of moping about all day. Plus, you’ll start feeling good about your physique.

Take Your Mind Off Worries

Running is particularly effective in bringing a welcome distraction from depressing thoughts that soon turn into a vicious cycle.

You Get To Meet New People

Exercises allow you to get more social interaction outside your family and your job. In short, you get to socialize more and meet new people! Having someone to talk to can definitely lift that cloud and uplift your mood.

Effective Coping Strategy

Doing something productive and positive with your time is one of the best things you can do to stave off depression. Instead of coping with alcohol, languishing and thinking suicidal thoughts and bringing down everyone around you, you can take action instead of allowing depression to take control.

Enhances Sleep

Physical exertions help in giving you restful sleep, which in turn wards off depressive symptoms such as anxiety, stress and lack of energy.

The Runner’s High 

You’ll often see the term ‘runners high‘ thrown about on websites that promote running, but what is it exactly, and how can it help with depression?

Science has found out that something good happens when we run for 20 minutes or so. During this period, the body signals for endorphin hormones to be released. This is the feel-good hormone that’s mainly responsible for giving individuals the “runner’s high”, or a joyous, exhilarating feeling that makes one feel that everything’s right with the world.

The brain chemicals released during exercise has been proven to lift depressive states. The brain then does a shift, and feelings of great joy spread out from to the whole body. Running allows one to get a dose of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. Moreover, the runner naturally experiences a higher body temperature and lower cortisol levels. While in this state, you become less susceptible to the symptoms of depression. Your muscle relaxes, your mood lifts and you’re calm and at peace.

Running also strengthens your immune system’s reaction to depression. When you run, you allow your body to eliminate harmful kynurenine, which is a chemical often linked to mental disorders by changing the structure into something the body can easily get rid of. The good hormones you get from running counters the bad hormones that appear when you’re depressed. Best of all, running is inexpensive and it doesn’t have that side effect most antidepressant medicines have.

In a Swedish study, a group of scientists induced a depressive behavior in mice by subjecting them to constant stress. In a close examination, it was found that the mice had an increase in kynurenine molecule production in their liver, which traveled to the brain. In a different study by Psychosomatic Medicine, it was found that exercise had comparable effects to that of antidepressant medication. Couple that with the fact that anyone can start this hobby and it causes no serious side effects, running becomes the go-to choice for anyone suffering from this debilitating condition.

Running coupled with meditation can be more effective than any form of traditional treatment for depression. Granted, running won’t magically cure you of depression, but the benefits are a welcome change to the symptoms you might be facing.

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