Author and avid runner Scott Douglas heralds the mood-boosting power of running—and he’s got the proof to back it up.
With 110,000 miles logged running, and a history of dysthymia or chronic low-grade depression, Scott Douglas is a believer in the powers of running. His new book, Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier, invites us to consider that there’s more to running than, well, just running. He ought to know, having started dealt with depression since his teenage years, embraced running and never stopped. He’s also a contributing editor for Runner’s World and has authored or coauthored eight books.
This is a big statement: Run and we’ll be in a better mood. How so?
Most people will say endorphins, along with other brain chemicals released when you run. Reduced muscle tension and increased blood flow to the brain contribute to the feel-better effect. Not to mention the psychological aspect of seeing yourself reach your goals.
Running’s effect on mood sounds as fleeting as the famous “runner’s high”. How is running effective therapy for depression and anxiety?
Yes. Especially for people with mild to moderate cases, aerobic exercise such as running has been found to be as effective as other common treatments, such as antidepressants.
We have many exercise choices. Why running?
Running is the best! No excuses, you can do it almost anywhere. There are indications that the foot strikes of running send nerve impulses directly from your feet to your brain.
So, what kind of run works this mental magic?
Any run is better than no run.
About long term: Any cumulative mental health benefits from running?
The most important thing I learned is that regular running may cause growth in the brain’s hippocampus — which is shrunken in people with depression, and neuroplasticity, growth of and increased communication between brain cells.
How long will it take to notice mental health benefits? Like, right away?
Beginners should notice within a month of regular running.
What’s your advice for those who would like to try running, as a form of therapy but are reluctant or intimidated?
The same principles of gradual increasing distance and intensity apply to all beginners, regardless of their motivation. Runners who are primarily motivated by mental-health reasons might have an advantage over other new runners, because they already have a personally meaningful reason to run versus people who feel they “should be running”.
You spoke to many different runners in writing this book. Were there any experiences that stood out for you?
Yes, those from people who started running late in life, and then felt a profound change. I’m awed by people who make the leap from a typical sedentary adult to a regular runner.
We might not think about the intersection of running and talk therapy. Would you elaborate?
When you run with someone else — and you want to run at a comfortable pace that allows you to do that — you can have in-depth, intimate, insightful talks that are the goal of talk therapy. One running therapist said they’re certainly therapeutic.
Is running the ultimate fix for managing mental health?
If you run and run and run, but if your relationships, work and more still suffer because of your mental health, no it’s not. Or maybe you’re injured and you keep running because you fear your mental state will plummet if you don’t. It may be a good time to evaluate your overall approach to determine what other means of support you need.
Finally, you started running as a teenager, and obviously, it’s working for you. Tell us how?
On a daily basis running improves my mood, energizes me, enlarges my social connections, and reminds me I can set and attain goals in other parts of my life, too. Long term, these daily hits improve the underlying fabric of my life.
Printed as “Back Chat: Scott Douglas”, Summer 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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