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May 13, 2021

Running: An Exercise in Conditioning the Body & the Brain

Oftentimes, we get so focused on the physical benefits of running, we underestimate the psychological ones. Many of us forge into running to improve our heart, shrink our waistline or combat the effects of the occasional over-indulgent weekend. Of course, running can indeed lead to a stronger heart, a toner body and added years to our lives. But, as running conditions our bodies by burning fat, building muscles and bumping up our stamina over time, it is also a powerful tool we can learn to use for mental conditioning—the process of training your mind to change your thoughts, attitudes and beliefs to optimize positive thinking, performance and productivity. Thus, giving us a natural remedy to deal with some of the mental health challenges we face.

For me, running is as much a quest for optimal brainpower as it is a physical undertaking. Running is that thing—next to highly-caffeinated drinks—that gives me that extra mental oomph. It also helps me hit the reset button and allows me to better handle the stresses and welcome the wins of the day.

Some of you may think that it’s counterintuitive to use running as a way to recharge (your mind, body and soul), because, after all, doesn’t running drain the energy from all of these things? Maybe, initially—but running is a long-term play that eventually rewards with enhanced vibrance, more restful sleeps and boosts in mood, memory, motivation and creativity. When I’m running consistently, I have a deeper sense of well-being, the discernment to make better choices in other areas of my life (including relationships and business), the resolve to remain calm in tense situations and the ability to control my outlook on life.

So, how does moving the body condition the brain? In part due to endorphins. As we run or engage in any aerobic activity and push ourselves to go harder and faster, our body starts releasing endorphins, a hormone that acts as a stimulant in the body, resulting in what runners call a “runner’s high”. Although this heightened euphoric state is temporary, the benefits—both tangible and cognitive—of a run don’t stop when we do.

Studies show that aerobic exercise can have a profoundly favorable impact on dealing with stress, depression and anxiety—even in small, but consistent doses, regardless of age or fitness level. We’ve all heard it, “running is cheaper than therapy”, but distinguishing between just having a bad day and clinical depression is a must-have conversation with your doctor or therapist.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), only 1 in 3 Black Americans who need mental health care receives it. Taking on the challenges of mental health issues, health coverage disparities and erasing the stigma around mental illness requires all of us and is the mission of Mental Health Awareness Month. Now is the perfect time to hone in on your mental well-being and to check on a friend. We are truly our sister’s keeper.

By: Joy Harrell
@joyrunsrealestateJoy Harrell is a licensed real estate agent and co-owner of The Sift Sisters bakery based in Houston, Texas. She is a native Houstonian and graduate of the University of Houston—go Coogs! When she is not helping people buy, sell or invest in real estate, she can be found hanging or traveling with her hubby, running or biking the streets and trails in and around Houston, mentoring girls or testing new food and cocktail recipes.