6 ways running relieves stress

How can running relieve stress?

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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05 March 2021

How can running relieve stress?

Running can relieve stress as it triggers hormones called endorphins that make us feel upbeat and energised. It is also very sociable and provides an escape from everyday problems. On top of this, running helps us to feel calmer, less anxious and provides a goal to work towards, all of which are good for stress levels.

6 ways running helps stress

It would seem that, over the course of a very stressful year, many more of us turned to running as a means of keeping fit and getting outdoors. Searches for running in 2020 peaked during the first and second national lockdowns. At this time, the search term was also significantly more popular on Google than other activities like Yoga, Pilates, cycling and home workouts.

Of course, running is so popular because it is accessible for many. It's also very good for stress levels. In fact, studies show that, when regular runners are forced to take a break from the activity, their stress levels peak. (1) So, perhaps keeping this activity up has, for many, been a means of keeping stress in check.

Let's take a closer look at how exactly running can impact our stress levels.

1. Running boosts endorphins

The so-called 'runner's high' is not a made-up phenomenon. Research clearly shows that this is caused by the release of endorphins. These are chemicals that influence mood and stress. They are also thought to have a positive impact on pain levels.

Using special imaging, researchers have found that endorphin release is higher after running. At the same time, it was found that runners experienced increased euphoria and happiness. (2)

Interestingly, researchers observed that the prefrontal and limbic regions of the brain are most affected by endorphins during running. These areas are known to play a part in processing emotions.

My Self-Care Tip: Begin running at any age!

Find out why you should take up running at any age and, in particular, as you get older!

2. Running provides an escape

Whether you are heading through your local park or around winding streets, running provides an escape and a chance to get away from the stresses that we carry in our lives. It is, quite literally, running away from the problem for a short period! This means we are able to become a little less focused on what is going on in the brain or around us, and stress may become a little more manageable.

3. Running is sociable

Joining a club or running with friends or family is particularly good for stress levels. This kind of interaction is a good distraction from everyday stresses.

Research also shows running with other people, such as on weekly Park runs, provides a connection to the community and boosts mental health. It may also make us more likely to stick to the habit. (3)

4. Running is calming

Those who are physically active have been shown to be calmer and less anxious. Importantly, in research, the negative effects of any stress reduced the closer in time that the stressor occurred to the bout of exercise, particularly in underactive participants. Meanwhile, inactive participants, any negative effects of stress remained low throughout the entire day that participants reported that they were active. (4)

When experiencing challenging periods in day-to-day life, exercise can also reduce the effects of stress. In particular, running has been shown to reduce the negative impact of chronic stress on memory. (5)

5. Running outdoors boosts mood

Exercising outdoors is particularly good for stress levels. Running outdoors in a natural environment has been shown to cause greater happiness after running when compared to treadmill running. (6) It also caused increased excitement and reduced anxiety and anger.

We also know that vitamin D is very good for mood and this, of course, we can get from the sun.

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6. Running provides a new focus

Running provides the opportunity to make new goals which can be a distraction from stressful life events. Working towards these goals, be it to run a 5k or to run 10 minutes without stopping, can create a reason to feel positive about yourself.

Also, the run itself gives a new focus. Here all the attention is on the physical – breathing, keeping the head and arms up, watching where the feet are going and so on. So, although stressful thoughts may pop up during the course of the run, they quite quickly get pushed out by the practicalities of getting through a run.


Always remember that, although running has benefits for mental health, you should speak to a health care professional for advice on additional treatments as well.


1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3405713/ 
2 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18296435/ 

4 https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-45303-001 

6 https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/7/752 

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