The ultimate exercise therapy

January 3, 2022

The ultimate exercise therapy

January 3, 2022

The last two years have been challenging worldwide. A series of lockdowns and social isolation has left many people feeling stressed, unhappy, overwhelmed and burnt out. Studies show a rise in distress and unease. We need to do what we can as individuals to focus on rebuilding the foundations of our happiness.

So where to start?

Well, therapy is an obvious go-to if you’re really having a tough time, but a change of headspace is sometimes all you need to shift mood and get back on the right track. And nothing beats my all-time favourite way to reset and get reinvigorated: trail running.

There is so much joy to be found in trail running. It is the ultimate exercise therapy, blending the well-known phenomenon of the “runner’s high” with the potent benefits of time spent in nature. Trail running is about connection to nature, soaking up the wide open spaces and the quiet surroundings. And with the global mental health turmoil developed over the last 2 years, now is the time to prioritize this exercise therapy.

Trail running is a mindfulness practice.

There is nothing quite like the presence you feel when you are trail running. Jumping over tree roots, side stepping rocks and navigating steep descents leave you no choice but to be there in the moment. Get distracted by thoughts and the chances of rolling an ankle is real. It’s essentially a moving mindfulness practice. However, you don’t need a meditation app – just a pair of running shoes.

Studies show mindfulness boasts a number of benefits including reduced rumination, stress, emotional reactivity and depressive symptoms plus an increase in positive affect, relationship satisfaction and the ability to focus attention. It’s no wonder that time spent trail running, focused on the present moment can feel so recharging.

It gives you a natural high.

Running, like other aerobic based activities, acts as a dramatic antidepressant. The “runners high” is an intense feeling of happiness and pleasure following a prolonged period of exercise thanks to the release of endorphins, our body’s natural “happy hormone”. This can promote short-term psychoactive effects like reduced anxiety, stress, depression and feelings of pain with an increased sense of calm.

Trail running is a stress reliever.

Humans are wired for connection with nature. Connecting with nature gives us time without an overload of external stimuli. This allows the brain to slow down, gain perspective and create some much-needed headspace. Time away from devices, away from the constant buzz of notifications gives us time to switch off and create space between thoughts. Being plugged into a relentless stream of emails, texts and calls can create overwhelm and lead to burnout as we strive to complete endless to-do lists.

The American Public Health Association found that being in nature is enough to significantly increase relaxation and therefore relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. Being out on the trails away from technology allows us to take the space and time to think, time to realize what is important and let the whirring head-talk settle. Being in nature has a potent calming effect on the brain. And studies show that as little as 90 minutes in nature may help with boosting mental health and positivity while reducing anxiety and depression.

Community makes a difference.

Running is often thought to be a solo sport. However, the global trail running community is full of support, encouragement and inclusivity. Studies show that people who are more socially connected with their communities are happier, physically healthier, live longer and have fewer mental health problems than those who are less well connected.

We are not made to live sedentary, city-based lives full of overwhelm and isolation. And to be there as a support for friends and family in times of high stress we need to make sure we solidify our own mental health first. Humans are hard-wired for nature and movement. We thrive when the brain has space to decompress in nature and when we add running, an activity known for its related endorphin boost, trail running becomes the ultimate therapy.

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