A lot of people run because they want to exercise in a simple, cost-effective way. Running increases bone health, lowers blood pressure and decreases risk of a variety of ailments.
It is a great way to work out your entire body; all you need are the proper shoes and clothes, making it much easier than other exercise regimens.
What a lot of people don't talk about, though, is how running can truly affect your happiness and mental wellbeing. Far more impressive and important than the physical benefits is what running can do for your emotional health.
I started running very casually when I was 17 years old. I would occasionally go for a jog or use the treadmill at the gym, but it was by no means a routine and it was HARD for me.
When I first started, I couldn't even run a mile and I didn't run often enough to increase my speed or endurance. I also had no concept of how running can make you feel, beyond acknowledging that it felt good to work out and do something for myself.
My relationship with running changed forever during the fall of my freshman year at college. I was a bit of a mess that semester, as many people are. I missed my parents, my friends, my high school, my bedroom and the comfort of being in a familiar environment. From time to time, this homesickness, combined with academic stress, would make me cry.
One night at around 11 pm, the tears started up again, but more intensely than usual. I was stressed out, sad and felt like I had no personal power to change it. So, I decided to go for a run, as I saw no other solution.
I'm aware that this was not the best idea: I left my safe dorm room (without my phone) and ventured out into the night, tears streaming down my face, only dimly aware of the possibility of getting lost or kidnapped.
Once I started running, though, a sense of absolute relief rushed through me. I was so thrilled to have a physical outlet for my anxiety that I ran much faster and much farther than I had ever managed to. I audibly cried for the first ten minutes, I tripped and fell down a lot.
I got some weird looks from older students, who were walking around, breakdown-free and having a fine old time. I'm sure I looked both pathetic and terrifying, but by the time I got back to my room, not only did I feel better, I felt great.
I had done something difficult, by myself and for myself. I gained a sense of control during a time when I felt like I couldn't control anything.
That night was six years ago, and since then, I have treasured running as an integral part of my life. So much of the stress, heartbreak and anger that I've experienced in the past six years has diminished and sometimes, even been obliterated by running. The endorphins that exercise naturally produces are a big part of that, but an equally important part has been building my physical strength.
That night, freshman year, I stumbled and cried my way through 20 minutes of cardio; earlier today, I ran for nine and a half miles. Trust me, it's amazing the first time you’re able to think to yourself, "I just ran all that way without stopping. I can probably handle anything."
Nobody can take the sense of freedom that running brings away from you; that's a rare thing. Running is great for your body, but it's better for your soul. It's like free therapy. It provides you with time to think, and puts daily worries in perspective. Running reminds you of your own strength, even when you're at your weakest.
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