Running stress away
Stress is a huge factor in life these days, regardless of age or gender.
Admittedly, some stress can be good, when used in a motivational way, but more often stress is a negative factor, leading to a wide array of physical and emotional maladies.
Physical exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress, with running at the top of the list of possibilities.
Those of you who’ve had much experience with running know what I say is true and there are a number of reasons why.
There is the “runner’s high” which kicks in after a mile or two, varying from person to person. This is scientifically proven as the body, along with adrenaline, produces endorphins when engaged in continuous longer-term exercise, which reduce stress, enhance the immune system, relieve pain and slow down aging.
So many good reasons to run!
Then there is the mental satisfaction of sticking with a regular running program.
Everyone knows that the more often a scheduled workout is “missed,” the easier it is to skip another one.
Knowing that we are going to go out and do what we know is appropriate works wonders for mental toughness, which is good whether we are competitive racers or just wanting to stay in good physical condition.
Routine helps in this respect.
Sometimes life can throw us curveballs, causing what seemed important yesterday to seem relatively insignificant today, putting our emotions on a roller coaster ride.
A regular running routine can help us make it through the rough times in life, knowing that there are at least some constants to depend on.
For example, the latter half of last week, I got a call from my brother, who lives in New York, telling me that my mom had been taken to the emergency room, later diagnosed with pneumonia.
All my great plans for the rest of the week and weekend went out the window as I scrambled to fly across the country to be with and help my family.
Everything changed, except one thing.
I still ran every other day, on my normal schedule.
After taking the “redeye” Thursday night and getting next to no sleep (I think it’s some sort of rule that all flights must have a screaming baby, especially overnight flights), I rented a car and drove through the pouring rain for almost two hours to get to the hospital.
Spent a couple of hours in my mom’s hospital room (she was stable by then), and my dad asked me if I wanted to get some food, as I’d had nothing but Power Bars so far that day, and I told him I needed to run first.
By that time it was snowing, which would have been fun to run in for a change, but by the time I got out, all the rain and snow was done (although it was below freezing!).
I ran on roads I hadn’t run on in about three decades, since high school, which added a nostalgia factor, but the point is that it cleared my head and gave me time to think, so I could get some perspective on what was happening, and allowed some semblance of “normal” life in the midst of all the chaos.
Everything was wacky for the next two days, with the exception of the one thing that was more constant than regular meals (I’d rather miss a meal than a run, and I did on this trip!). I ran two days later and really enjoyed the mental and physical peace it brought me (and endorphins!).
My Dad, who has been very supportive of my running over the years, questioned the importance of running while I was there, which surprised me.
But I know that running is what helped me stay calm and sane through it all.
When I got to the hospital room on my third day there, after running, my mom commented to me twice about how good I looked (which is unusual – and it wasn’t the drugs talking!). All I could think was that I had the “glow” of having just had a good run, which left me able to be emotionally available and upbeat around her despite the situation and surroundings.
My sister-in-law told me later that I had brought the gift of laughter and I am 100 percent certain I was able to lighten the atmosphere there because running kept me firmly grounded.
In addition, running has helped lessen the impact of divorce, children’s scary illnesses, work stress (including being laid off after 15 years with the same company) and many other stressful times in my life.
Yes, I know that if I am upset or angry and go out to run, I don’t come back that way as the anxiety gets burned out on the roads and trails.
Consistent running equals lowered stress levels, resulting in better tolerance and decision-making ability, improved sleep, greater quality relationships and a happier, healthier life.
So, the next time you are angry or upset and head out for a run, notice the difference in your feelings when you finish.
Amazing, isn’t it?
Steve Bond, whose mom is now home and doing much better, is a competitive runner who lives in Grass Valley and writes columns and feature stories about running for The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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