How Running Can Help You Reprogram Your Brain and Be Happy?

Written by on March 23, 2019 in Exercise and Fitness, Health with 0 Comments

You can read hundreds of books and attend dozens of seminars on the topic of how to be happier and more positive. You can try the techniques like finding a purpose in life, practicing gratitude, meditating, getting busy, sleeping well, etc.

And still, you will find it hard to be happy because your brain is wired for negative thinking.

It is our brain where the feelings of despair, joy, positivity, or negativity are manifested. And if it is the brain where it all starts then maybe reprogramming our brain is the key to happiness and positivity?

How does running help?

It is an established fact that exercise or physical activity plays a major role in our overall health and happiness. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, helps us lose weight, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and helps us sleep better.

It also comes with a number of benefits for mental health like improving memory, reducing the risk of problems like dementia, Alzheimer's, and depression.

Hundreds of hormones and chemicals are formed and/or released in the brain, from the moment you put on your running shoes and start to run.

Here are some of the ways that running can help you reprogram your brain and be happier:

1) Serotonin

Serotonin is a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Depressed people often have low levels of serotonin and are prescribed medications with this active drug. Serotonin production increased in bright sunlight, which explains why outdoor activities improve our moods. This is also why people living in the dark, cold regions are often depressed even though they cannot understand the reason behind it.

Sweat and exercise can also stimulate the production of serotonin in our body. Research says that getting your heart pumping through cardio exercises can be as effective as some antidepressant.

2) Dopamine

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter which is responsible for reward-driven behaviour and motivation levels in human beings. People who are depressed often suffer from low levels of dopamine. They feel they haven’t accomplished anything in life.

Long distance running will let you set goals and milestones and when you achieve some of them, it will increase the dopamine level in your body. This will give you the reward and motivation to run for even longer periods.

3) Endocannabinoids

A 2012 study at the University of Arizona suggests that Endocannabinoids are the reason behind the runner’s high. Increased levels of Endocannabinoids were observed in humans, as well as dogs after running.

Endocannabinoids work like cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. It can alter perception and state of consciousness in different ways which boost mood, emotions, level of motivation, memory, pleasure, etc. In other words, running can improve your mood like recreational drugs.

4) Endorphins

Endorphins are a self-made morphine and has analgesic properties. These are produced in the hypothalamus when you are physically active during exercise or running. When your body produces natural pain relievers, you can sleep well which automatically reduces stress level. You will feel happier and more positive. Clinical trials have successfully concluded that exercise does reduce anxiety.

5) GABA

GABA is an inhibitory molecule that creates a feeling of calmness by slowing down the firing of neurons. GABA can be increased by meditation, yoga and running. GABA is ideal for relaxation, sleep, stress, and mood. There are two types of GABA … GABAA and GABAB. GABAA promotes relaxation and sleep and GABAB is for mental relaxation and feelings of happiness. In fact, GABA deficit has shown to lead to depression.

6) Adrenaline

The Adrenaline “rush” which we get from doing exciting things, something fearful, or anything exhilarating or dangerous is actually a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Adrenaline creates an energy surge, increases heart rate, and sends more blood to large muscles by constricting less important blood vessels. It is also known as the survival hormone.

An adrenaline surge makes us feel more alive and can counter boredom and stagnation. Taking risks and doing scary things can give you this “rush”. However, another safer (and a more sensible) way to get this energy is to do physical exercise. Before any race starts, adrenaline starts to flow. Your heart starts to race and muscles twitch. This is adrenaline, preparing us to run as fast as we can.

Adrenaline rush helps you meet deadlines, improve vision, blocks pain, boost your immune system, and also slows down aging.  Research also suggests that it makes us more confident.

The brain is a sensitive and complex organ, made of billions of nerves and cells. Hundreds of different factors and hormones affect how we think or how we feel. There are new researches and new discoveries but it will take many more years to figure exactly how it works.

However, it is totally safe to assume that running (or any other form of exercise) can play a major role in our physical, emotional and mental well-being. And that’s all that really matters.

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