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Running as Therapy: Psychological Effects at the Center of Research

Woman jogging on a colorful, collage-like background.

In recent years, interest in the positive effects of running as a regular activity on mental health has increased significantly. Current studies shed light on various aspects, from improving mood to increasing creativity. In this article, we review four recent studies that highlight the many psychological benefits of running.

Running and Stress Reduction

A study by Szabó and Abraham (2013) analyzed the effects of running on the affective states of recreational runners. The researchers found that running caused significant positive changes in participants' moods, confirming the role of running as an effective means of stress reduction. The study emphasizes that even short running sessions are sufficient to achieve noticeable improvements in emotional well-being.

Self-esteem and Self-perception

Markotić et al. (2020) analyzed the long-term psychological effects of running. Their results show that regular running increases self-esteem and contributes to a more positive self-image. Runners reported increased self-efficacy and a greater sense of personal accomplishment, suggesting that running offers more than just physical benefits.

Cognitive Benefits of Running

A study by Tuckman and Hinkle (1986) examined the cognitive effects of running in school-age children. The researchers found that regular running not only improved physical fitness but also increased creativity and mental flexibility. The study suggests that cognitive performance can be improved by physical activities such as running, which is particularly relevant in educational settings.

Running to Reduce Mental Stress

An older but relevant study by Callen (1983) explored the emotional and mental aspects of long-distance running. Results showed that runners experienced significant improvements in reducing tension, improving self-image, and overall mood. Interestingly, many runners reported a state of enhanced creativity and even trance-like states while running.

Given these multiple benefits, it is no wonder that more and more people are choosing running as part of their daily routine to promote mental well-being. For many, running is a great way to improve physical and mental health. But if you are a beginner, how much and how often should you run to maximize the mental benefits? 

The Ideal Running Routine for Beginners

Frequency of Running

Research suggests that three running sessions per week are ideal for beginners. This success can be achieved slowly: start with one run per week for a month, then two per week, and finally three sessions per week as a baseline. This frequency allows the body to acclimate to the new activity without the risk of overtraining and injury that can occur with daily running.  

Running Duration

Beginners should start with short runs of about 20-30 minutes. Studies show that even short running sessions can have positive effects on mood and overall mental health. As endurance improves, you can gradually increase your running duration. However, it is important to listen to your body and take breaks when necessary.

Running Intensity

Intensity should be moderate, especially in the beginning. A good metric is the ability to sustain a conversation while running. This method called the "talk test," ensures that you do not overexert yourself and that you experience running as an enriching, non-fatiguing activity.

Running as Therapy

As a specialist, I recommend that you take advantage of not only the physical and psychological aspects of running but also the mental ones. Turn your training into a meditation. Follow the link to the learning program: Walking Meditation Tutorial. If you have orthopedic problems, you can simply try the same thing.  


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