Why Consistent Exercise in Nature Supports Good Mental Health

Holly Slater

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1zALyx_0YlyCs4Q00Photo by Nathalie Désirée Mottet on Unsplash

I got back into running again recently. 

And by “got back into,” I mean that I’ve been out on a long run all of one time in the last week. Before that, it had been a little over two months. I love outdoor running with a passion, but my struggle nowadays is consistency. 

I could go into all the excuses of why it’s been difficult for me to keep a running routine. But the truth is, these excuses add up to the fact that I’m simply struggling to do what’s good and healthy for me often enough. Consistent wine drinking? No problem! Consistent running? Talk about a challenge. 

But there are so many motivating factors to consider when trying to get back into the habit of running and exercise. And it’s not just about physical health. There are also powerful mental health benefits that come from adding running, walking, or some other exercise to your regular routine.

Run/Walk Yourself Smart 

I have a 5-mile route I love to run around my neighborhood. Much of it is uphill. Some of it winds through a beautiful wooded trail in a local park. Last week, the snow had melted enough for me to start running again. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had the willpower to get out in nature and move my body up and down the quiet sidestreets of my hometown. 

And it was glorious. 

Physically, it was kind of brutal. I was of course out of shape after being out of commission for so long. Mentally, it was amazing. There were times when I felt the high of adrenaline, and times when I felt the calming meditative effects that have always come with pumping my arms and legs for long distances. 

I decided to run after work, the best time for me to expel some of my pent-up energy after sitting and writing all day. The setting sun was a magical shade of gold as it peeked through the naked tree branches. And the temperature was perfect. At a little over 50 degrees, it’s not too cold, and definitely not too warm. 

For me, running is a stress reliever, a powerful brain booster, a mood enhancer, a creativity inducer, and an anti-depressant — all rolled into one. 

If you’re ever sitting in your car or on your porch, wondering why the hell someone is running for dear life when no one’s chasing them, it’s because the endorphin high is one of the most powerful (and natural) drugs around, able to be produced by our own bodies simply by working out. 

And these mental benefits don’t stop when you finish your workout. Regular cardiovascular exercise can spark the growth of new blood vessels to nourish the brain, according to David Linden, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

Add to that the possibility that exercise may produce new brain cells in certain locations through a process called neurogenesis, and you can see why running is believed to lead to better brain performance and even help slow down cognitive decline. 

In his article published in Johns Hopkins Health Magazine, Linden also explains that “the hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with memory and learning — has been found to increase in volume in the brains of regular exercisers.”

Talk about a heady workout. If I know that running can make me feel good, improve my memory and focus, elevate my mood, and in all likelihood probably make me smarter, that should be all the motivation I need to get out there and go for a run on a regular basis. 

But, we can’t forget that despite all of its benefits, establishing a workout routine and making it a consistent habit is incredibly challenging. Just because I enjoy doing it overall — and especially enjoy the end result — doesn’t mean it’s easy for me to just get up and go. 

It’s a lot like writing. I love to write, I love being a writer, I love the process of writing — and I love the end result of tapping into my creativity and even earning a small income with it to help support my family. 

But that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to just pick up a pen or open a blank doc and start slinging words and phrases together in a way that will benefit readers. It takes a lot of effort simply to get started. And then once you finally do start, the challenge of consistency is the real beast. 

Open Your Creative Mind 

Running in nature has always helped me be more creative, which naturally enables me to be more productive in my creative projects. 

I couldn’t count how many times I’ve stopped to take a voice note to record some dialogue I’d thought of, or a podcast episode idea, or a topic for a personal essay. 

Getting away from the blank page and doing some physical activity has always helped me think. I listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook — and as my feet hit the pavement, whatever I’m listening to inspires my own thoughts and ideas. 

My imagination often wanders as I focus on my own projects, and the song or podcast I’m listening to becomes a meditative hum of white noise in the background. 

And that’s where ideas come from. 

Running has helped me through writer’s block, and it’s helped me come up with new ideas. Because when you’re running for that long, you’re going to want something to busy your mind — and it’s a beautiful thing for the creative process. 

Find Your Energy 

At first, it seems counterproductive if you’re struggling with low energy. Kicking my own butt 2.5 miles up and down several hills and then 2.5 miles back takes up a ton of energy. 

But, in just a few runs, I always stop feeling drained afterward. I start feeling energetic during the run, and long after. 

The more consistent I am with running and exercise, the more energy I seem to have stored up whenever I’m not running. I find it’s easier to wake up and be more focused and alert for my day job. I’m able to get more housework done, and I tend to have more energy leftover for whatever I want to do in my free time — from creative writing, to working on my music, to playing more Mario Party on the Nintendo Switch with my son. 

More time with my son and my family is something I want to focus more energy on. By taking better care of me, I’m able to devote more time to them. It’s an ongoing cycle of energy that everyone can benefit from. 

So, consider giving consistent exercise a try. It doesn’t necessarily have to be long-distance running. It could be biking, hiking trails, or walking in nature. But, if you’re physically able to get out and about, it’s something I highly recommend. 

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Writing about places to see, things to do, and news to know.

Cincinnati, OH
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