The reasons why running cures anxiety

It has long been known that running and sports activities in general contribute to the release of stimulants, runner’s high and well-being. What is less known is why. James Maddux, professor of psychology at George Mason University, has given some novel and particularly interesting explanations in this regard. In short, we know that running is good for the mood but exactly why does it work in this regard?
Let’s find out.

Mental distraction

As much as running and some sporting activities can be done on “autopilot” since they require repetition of gestures and not-at least not in competition-a particular effort of the brain in studying the strategy to be used to make the best use of energy, it is also true that the work required of the brain is not negligible.

Especially when doing particularly demanding and technical workouts, or even when doing threshold work or beyond (i.e., when considerable physical exertion is required that must be aided by the mind), concentration is critical.

Being focused in these training sessions or during a race keeps the mind busy pursuing a specific goal, which distracts it from more contingent problems.

The setting

The context in which you train is very important, and since in the case of running it is mostly the outdoors, the benefits of being in a natural environment are undeniable.

Some research had already attempted years ago to calculate how much it was advisable to live surrounded by nature for benefits, concluding that as little as two hours a week can improve mood and fight anxiety.

Note that we talk about “being immersed in nature,” not attending it marginally. The broader and more boundless the natural setting in which you run, the more profound the benefits you gain.

If you run, however, you already know that from this point of view you start with a certain advantage: you run outside, and the only expedient you need to adopt is therefore to do it in a park or in the outskirts, so that you are more directly in contact with the natural world.

What is the reason why running outside and in nature allows you to control anxiety and depression? The cause seems to lie in the newfound connection with an environment in which our ancestors and progenitors were accustomed to live always and forever.

Personal satisfaction

The final reason that, again according to Professor James Maddux, would explain the effectiveness of running in treating anxiety and depression is to be found in the side effects of running.
Think about it: when you run you are fulfilling a commitment made only by you and with you. The consequence is that you gain or fortify confidence in yourself. The more you regain and consolidate this feeling of individual security and control, the more you can keep anxiety at bay.

What in fact is anxiety? The origin of the word can help us understand it: it is in fact derived from the Latin word “angĕre” meaning “to squeeze,” and well represents the unpleasant feeling we sometimes get of being cornered, of having no escape, of having a very limited and suffocating view of reality and the future.

Instead, the perception of how much can be accomplished through commitment and motivation by practicing sports can help you broaden your vision and, with it, glimpse different perspectives that allow you to realize that you are not really cornered and, more importantly, not as weak as you thought.

Running, at least in the latter case, would make the distressed mind realize that there is an alternative and that it is up to it alone. In short, it would allow you to widen your field of vision to the point where you see that there are different possibilities and that you can always move away from the corner where anxiety and depression have put you.

Decrease anxiety in three moves

How to control physiological anxiety (pathological anxiety has a different origin, is more disabling, and needs to be treated differently and by experienced people)?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer or pill to take, but certainly distracting your mind from its anxious problems by engaging it in something that requires concentration, doing it in a natural place, and finally seeing that you are capable of doing it (resulting in an increase in self-esteem) can do so much to restore a dimension of serenity and relaxation. Chasing away anxiety.

(Main image credits: Syda_Productions – Via


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