There are many benefits to running, not least the physical health benefits. By going for a short run, you’ll be burning calories, improving your cardiovascular health, and even giving your immune system a boost, among other benefits. However, there’s also another side to running that you might not have considered before, but which can make just a positive impact on your life as the physical benefits: mental health.
In this frantic, stress-filled age, we all need something to take the edge off and make sure our brain is feeling as good as possible. The good news is that all it sometimes takes is a pair of running shoes, a pair of shorts, and the open road.
Why Does Running Benefit Older People?
Well, running doesn’t just give a mental boost to older people - it’ll work for people of all ages. However, it’s mostly older people, who don’t have the same time or opportunities as younger people to partake in exercise, who need to consciously seek out ways to stay active. Depression also affects older adults at a higher rate than people of other ages. This occurs for a number of reasons, including loneliness, health concerns, reduce mobility, and an increasingly sense of uselessness.
The reason running is so effective a recommendation to older people is because virtually anybody can do it. There’s little specialist equipment needed, meaning it doesn’t cost much, and it can be done anywhere and at any time. As it’s primarily an independent activity, older adults can run at their own pace without feeling like they’re letting other people down, and they’re not obliged to run for any set length of time. Ten minutes or one hour - it’s up to them!
There are countless benefits of running to improve mental well being; here, we take a look at some of the most important.
Physical exercise has been shown in some studies to be just as effective as antidepressants at treating depression. When engaging in physical activities such as running, the body naturally releases endorphins, which create a positive feeling in the brain. This chemical is something of a miracle in how it reduces pain; it’s even stronger than morphine!
Older people often find it a challenge to remain a sense of independence. Running allows them to take some control back in the life, and also reminds them of their freedom - they can’t feel trapped if they’re free to run wherever they please! The stress of losing control in one’s life is always reduced when running, as it naturally releases serotonin, which helps reduce stress.
Goals and Challenges
It’s not always easy for older people to find goals and challenges. Once they’re retired from work and their kids have grown up, it’s easy for adults to lose sight as to what their “role” is. Taking up running gives the adult a reason to wake up at the morning, and a way for them to set targets. They can run for 30 minutes? Tomorrow, they’ll try to run for 35. These small goals can give the focus, direction, and sense of accomplishment needed to feel mentally well.
Isolation is a big problem for the older generation. All too often, people find themselves, without anywhere else to be, sitting at home watching the days slip by. Runners will never face this problem; they’ll always be out running, feeling part of the world. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one that enables people to still feel part of society.
Additionally, taking up running is a great way to meet like-minded people. Without jobs or other reasons to leave the home, it can be difficult to make friends once you reach a certain age. If they find a group of similar aged people to run with, they’ll be plugging into an instant social group. Feeling part of a community adds meaning and value to one’s life, and also acts as a motivation to carry on running even past the time when most people give up.
These are just a few of the ways in which running can help older people improve their mental (and physical) health. If you know somebody who could benefit, give them a running headband and suggest they give it a go: it might just change their life.
This is a freelance article by Helen Rainbow