Association of International Marathons and Distance Races

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Sport science Gold Coast Marathon

17 February 2020, 12pm

New insights into benefits of running

Running and mental health

Gcm19 10km happy elderly ladies waving

Every distance runner has their own reasons for running. There are as many reasons as there are runners. Behind each runner is a different story of how they got to the start line and why they are challenging themselves to complete a 10km, half marathon or the full 42.195km distance.

For many it is a physical challenge: to get fitter, to have more energy to play with the kids – or for any number of other known health benefits of running: like building stronger bones and muscles, helping to manage weight, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and to reduce the risk of heart disease.

But for others running presents a way to improve their mental health rather than their physical fitness. With increased awareness of how mental health permeates people’s lives the number of people running to improve their mental health is increasing.

Race organisers can facilitate this movement and help to bring the connection between running and mental health even closer, as the Village Roadshow Theme Parks Gold Coast Marathon has attempted to do.

The race organisers teamed up with mental health crusaders LIVIN to encourage people to engage in a conversation about mental health. The charity provides early education programs in schools around Australia to promote wellness and positive living for young people.

LIVIN’s motto is “It ain’t weak to speak” and the charity succeeded in selling a range of branded clothing designed to start conversations about mental health and to generate funds for these school programs.

LIVIN psychologist Luke Foster outlines five different ways in which we can literally run ourselves into a better state of mind:

1. Running promotes all kinds of changes in the brain. It stimulates the release of chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, which give you warm feelings. It can lead to neural growth and new activity patterns in the brain that promote feelings of calm and reduce inflammation. Running, it seems, is literally a positive ‘brain changer’.

2. Running can often be a shared activity which gives you an opportunity to interact with others and reap the benefits of social support. Interacting with others has been shown to promote the release of feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine.

3. Running can help to release muscular and skeletal tension leaving you feeling more relaxed. Your morning or afternoon jog can also help you sleep better and create better sleep habits. This will in turn leave you feeling more energised and keep your moods regulated more effectively.

4. Running towards a certain goal, like completing a marathon, gives you a sense of accomplishment. Add to that the positive effect on your self-esteem as your fitness and physique improves the closer you get to reaching your goal and running can give you a real dose of feel-good energy.

5. Running can reduce the effects of stress. Heading out for a gentle run after a stressful experience lowers cortisol levels (or the stress hormone in the brain) and can expedite a return to baseline. Running allows you time to ruminate which fast-tracks turning off your body’s stress responses.

While improving their own mental health, participants in any one of the eight races on offer at the Gold Coast Marathon can contribute to the well-being of others by raising money for LIVIN through the fundraising platform everydayhero.

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