I've said a lot on this blog so far about running because it humbles me, because it's a challenge, and because it makes me stronger. All of these things are true, but in my heart of hearts, I must confess to you the reason I really run.
This was never more true for me than yesterday. Things were really just not going my way yesterday. And given that it is the first week of school (I'm a community college psychology professor) and I felt very underprepared for it (ha! and so instead of working, I'm sitting here writing this blog post!), it was just a little more than I could handle.
Confession: I suffer from depression and I have since I was 17.
I am on medication and most of the time, I have few to no symptoms as a result of my disorder. But I do get anxiety a little easier than most and am a bit more prone to "the blues".
Confession: Running fixes it (as long as I can get myself out the door).
Research on the effects of exercise on depression began as early as the 1970s. For example, Greist and colleagues (1979) were among the first to show that a group of male and female runners diagnosed with depression experienced as much relief from symptoms as a group of non-runners undergoing psychotherapy.
However, running isn't the only form of exercise that relieves depression. In 1987, Doyne and colleagues assigned a group of women suffering from depression to either a running group or weightlifting group.
The runners were instructed to attend 3-4 track sessions per week where they stretched, ran at 80% of their maximum heart rate, and had a 5-10 minute cool-down (Interestingly, I cannot find any information in this paper about how long the actual running took place!). The weight-lifting group worked through a 10-station circuit at 50-60% of their maximum heart rate (also 3-4 times per week). In the end, both groups showed a significant, but equal, reduction in depressive symptoms compared to a control group that did not exercise. The authors of this research also suggest that, consistent with theories of behavioral therapy, a regular exercise program may "produce a sense of accomplishment and enhanced self-efficacy
as visible improvements in performance occur" (p.753).
More recently, a review of several studies looking at the effects of a variety of physical activity on depression indicates that, while the type of exercise might not matter, the intensity of the exercise is important. High-intensity weight training is better than low-intensity weight training (Singh et al., 2005), and symtpom relief seems to be inversely related to exercise intensity in other studies (as intensity increases, symtpoms decrease; Dunn, Trevedi, & O'Neal, 2001).
So, basically, being active keeps me sane. I do run for all the reasons I've already mentioned but, at the root of it, I run to keep myself mentally balanced. Am I sure why it works? Not now, but I intend to learn more about it and then write about it in a future post. All I know is, my husband probably sure is glad I do it. Often. Or else how would he put up with my crazy-ass self?
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? What are your true reasons for running? Confess here!