Running for anxiety | Running as a prescription for anxiety?

running for anxiety

How can running help anxiety?

We’ve known for a while that exercising has a positive impact on our mental health (read more here). But what about running for anxiety? Gurung (2016) believes that maybe it ought to be prescribed.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most commonly identified common psychological disorder in the UK. Those that suffer with GAD represent 5.9% of the population (NHS, 2016). Sufferers are severely impacted and their emotional distress is considerable. The fact is, anxiety interferes with daily function.

There are many tools and techniques that can help to minimise anxiety and make it more manageable. But if you haven’t considered running, perhaps it’s time to do so.

Here are 6 benefits of running, all of which directly target anxiety:

The neurotropic factor

Some suggest that a specific neurotropic factor in the brain is linked to depression and anxiety and the concentration of this can be reduced by running in people with panic disorder (Strohle et al, 2010)

Body temperature changes

Other researchers (e.g. Morgan, 1997) have found the body temperature change to be significant because it triggers a relaxation effect, which contributes to anxiety reduction.


Many researchers focus on the stimulation of neurotransmitters and hormones during exercise such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline. Chaouloff (1997) believes these help to regulate negative psychological states.

Psychological effects

The most commonly reported benefit is a reduction in stress. Rebar et al (2015) found that positive change in core mood is experienced towards pleasant feelings in those diagnosed with clinical anxiety. In fact their research suggested that exercise could be used as a primary treatment for particular mood disorders.

Other key areas that are agreed upon by most studying this area are: self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-mastery through physical activity. It has been found that when running is made routine, the impact on self esteem is significant.

Social and cultural aspects

A number of studies have highlighted the social and cultural aspects of running and how these may impact psychological outcomes. Social cohesion, contribution to the community and a sense of inclusion were all highlighted by Stevinson in his study in 2015. Think Parkrun or a running club (socially distant of course!)

Bi-lateral stimulation

A lesser known positive outcome of running (or any left/right rhythmic activity) is bi-lateral stimulation of the brain (think left/right brain hemispheres – definition here). This been found not only to reduce anxiety, but when used as part of EMDR treatment (based on bi-lateral stimulation) to diminish the impact of traumatic events experienced.

All in all, running is a low cost, highly rewarding and anxiety reducing activity. Obviously the physical benefits are considerable too, so dust off your running shoes!

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