By now, I’m sure everyone is familiar with the term “runner’s high” and the vast emotional benefits of jogging. I started going for runs this past December in an effort to ease some of my winter blues and haven’t looked backed since. I’m hoping this habit will stick because unlike medication or supplements, the emotional benefits of running can be noticed almost immediately.
According to an article on Shape magazine’s website, the illusive runner’s high is a result of the release of endocannabinoids (not endorphins!), which are chemicals we produce in-house that are activated by physical exertion. The release of endocannabinoids depends on the intensity and duration of the exertion. According to Shape, most people need to run a minimum of 20 minutes before they start to feel the benefits. This of course varies from person to person.
Here are some tips for late-in-life joggers like myself.
Before you start:
- Make sure you’re aware of proper form: keep your arms above chest level, your hands relaxed, and maintain good posture. Remember to take short, light steps. Keeping your body relaxed can help you to avoid feeling sore later. Also, pay attention to the way your feet hit the ground. Try to land in the middle of your foot and bounce into your next step.
- Map out your jogging trail before you go. I walked mine beforehand, just to make sure where I was running was safe, practical, and private. Steer clear of uneven surfaces.
- Make a playlist. I found it difficult to motivate myself, especially the first few times, to even get out the door. It’s cold outside, you have a headache, you haven’t slept enough, this is your only day off, your cat will miss you, your hair will get sweaty: there are infinite reasons to stay home with a bag of chips, and any one of those reasons can quickly become the deciding factor. I found music to be a helpful motivator, so I would save my newest downloads to listen to on run days. It was something to look forward to and I found the right kind of music really got my energy up.
During the run:
- Practice your breathing. Yes, it sounds obvious, but there is a wrong and a right way to breath when you run. Here are some tips on learning the technique from Runner’s World:
- Lie down on your back.
- Keep your upper chest and shoulders still.
- Focus on raising your belly as you inhale.
- Lower your belly as you exhale.
- Inhale and exhale through both your nose and mouth.
- Be realistic. I don’t run every day because I don’t have time to, but I’m committed to running every Sunday (my day off), and I’m hoping to incorporate more days in with time. A definite upside to running is that it is a solitary activity, so you have the upside of incorporating it into your life at your own pace. Also, don’t be surprised when on your first go you feel like you’ve been running for at least 45 minutes – only to check your watch and find out it has only been 11. I ran for 15 minutes my first time, 35 minutes the time after, and 45 the time after that. The nice thing about running is that it allows you to establish your own schedule. There’s no point of tuckering yourself out and subsequently getting discouraged; don’t be embarrassed about a slow start.
- Also, don’t be embarrassed about walking. Try interval training (which incorporates walking, yay!). Run for three minutes; walk for three minutes; repeat. I found interval training was a good way to gradually increase my running time.
- Establish personal victory points. I chose several landmarks along my jogging trail – where the train tracks end, the bridge on River street, the matte black condo building, the Lexus dealership – and then slowly worked my way to a new one each time I jogged.
- Running in public is not easy. I’ve done the treadmill thing in the past, but it didn’t prepare me for what it was like to run in front of strangers. Even early in the morning, or on a private trail, you’re bound to run into bikers, walkers, and fellow joggers, and for me that was the most discerning factor. I was constantly afraid to look silly due to my inexperience, and that’s why it took me so many years to actually go for my first run. Instead, I was hiding behind my computer feeling depressed and anxious – postponing the activity that had the promise of making me feel better. Like anything, the first time is always the hardest. Every time after that is easier, and over time, the difficulties the self consciousness go away.
Read more about why running is good for your mental health here.
Zakiya has her degree in journalism from Ryerson University and currently works as a freelance content writer based in Toronto. Zak is a dedicated journal-er and enjoys writing and reading fiction, particularly science fiction, in her free time. Mental illness is something that has touched her life and the lives of her loved ones, so she is supportive of anything that brings attention to and provides new perspectives about mental health.