Massage therapist Erika Zettervall has embarked upon an experiment: can running help with depression? In this inspiring blog she shares her journey so far and some helpful resources for anyone interested in exploring whether running might be a good option for yourself in improving mental wellbeing.
I have taken up running again, this time conducted as a little experiment to see how - or if - it affects my state of mind. Bluntly put, I’d like to see if it works to combat depression.
My state of mind has been a bit low and dull, feeling uninspired and finding it hard to make decisions as well as difficulty concentrating. Perhaps that’s normal sign of ageing or symptomatic of my lifestyle with increased screen time and social media indulgence.
According to psychiatrist Anders Hanson, running 30-45 minutes 3 times a week at 70% effort for at least 6 weeks would create changes in the brain that help with depression. My understanding is that there is a substance produced in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex in the brain called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that protects, repairs and stimulates new brain cells. Having low levels of this substance is associated with depression. Medication increases these levels as does exercise.
I have taken antidepressants in the past and found them helpful to some extent but not really making much difference long term and at this point it doesn’t feel necessary to seek them out.
So, after finding a book on my bookshelf in the great unread section by Dr Anders Hansen writing about the benefits exercise in general, and running in particular, has on the brain as well as hearing him speak on Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast, Feel Better Live More, episode 38, I decided to give it a go. A simple explanation for these benefits is that our biology is still more in line with being a hunter gatherer and not suited for the abundant, convenient world we now live in. Shorter sessions of 20-30 minutes would also make improvements in the functions of the brain such as memory and creativity.
The plan is to work up to the 45min sessions and keep it up for 6 weeks and see how I feel and then keep going with three times a week 30-45min sessions. It sounds a realistic and doable plan to have and curious to see how this will take me through the winter. No doubt shorter days and harsher weather will be a bit of challenge.
Luckily, I have always liked running when I’m fit enough and I enjoy the striding movement. It’s a nice way to explore an area be it park, wood or neighbourhood. It is also a very accessible and simple way to exercise. No need for fancy memberships, class schedules or expensive equipment. Just put shoes on and go. I like the freedom of that.
I am now 4 weeks in and it is a joy. Perhaps it’s the lovely, mild autumnal weather that brings a pep to my step. Starting out being in general good health and having a comfortable walking gait has been helpful (don’t run before you can walk as the saying goes) in having making it very pain free so far. Not focusing on speed or distance makes it very carefree.
The first two weeks I went for 20-30 min sessions and this last week increased it to 45 min a couple of times.
As to how my mind is: Feeling a lot more inspired than I did a couple of weeks ago, but if that is down to the actual running or to setting and following a plan it’s hard to say. Having an intention with what you do, whatever it is, is also one of these things in life that can shift the mood.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.