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Here’s how running gives me a mental health boost

Every minute I get to spend on the trails helps me keep my brain healthy

Keeley Milne running down Mount Fernie in B.C., 2022 Photo by: Shawn Parsons

Mental health is an important and prevalent topic right now (as it should be) and we all know exercise is good for our brains and bodies. There’s plenty of scientific evidence as to why we should run–but here are a few simple reasons why getting out the door makes me a happier person, every single time.

No matter how the run went, by the end I feel a little bit better about everything

It’s a tough world out there, and those of us who get to run are lucky indeed. That doesn’t mean things aren’t hard sometimes, and it’s easy to get lost in despair about the state of affairs of the world, your messy desk, worries about inflation or how on earth you’ll survive the next few months of limited daylight hours. By the end of a run, my hope for every single thing is elevated, and that alone makes it worth getting out the door.

Cartoon about running
Photo: @semirad

Smiles. Some days I run for the smiles (and the little waves)

I’m an introvert, and I am not skilled at small talk. When I’m running, though, passing other friendly runners brings me a little rush of connection and joy. It reminds me of what race season feels like (community, community, community–the level of support in the trail running community is something that seems unparalleled). It makes me think that, just maybe, as Freetrail founder and ultrarunner Dylan Bowman has said, trail running really can save the world.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Brendan Leonard (@semi_rad)

It certainly can bring joy–sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly low, I force myself to run paths I know I’ll see people on, and make an effort to say hello and smile to every single one. The response is almost ridiculously overwhelming.

Strangers will stop to talk about a bird they just saw, or point out an icy patch to avoid. One man I often run past in the early-morning dark never fails to let out a big cheer for me. The connection, for just an hour, is enough to fill my introvert’s bucket and brings me some happiness (and hopefully others, as well).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Keeley Milne (@keerunsfar)

That pleasant full-body post-run glow

You know the feeling. Even if you get out the door and every minute of your run is a slog, when you return, shower, and go about your life, you carry around that post-run essence with you–a combination of pleasure from physical effort, a sense of accomplishment, and that hint of ease and relaxation in your body (or at least my body).

little dog in Fernie, B.C. 2020
Photo: Caitlin Milne

Dogs are the cherry on top

Some people are dog people (and dog-running people), and I happen to be one of them. In the ultrarunning community, no event is complete without a gathering of dogs that run, milling about, barking and getting extra attention from runners and crew members. I run with my dog often, and those runs bring me more delight than any other–I’ve learned to slow down, pay attention to little things, and investigate the outdoors by running with my four-legged friends.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Keeley Milne (@keerunsfar)

Some days it’s really hard to get out the door. Like ultrarunner, artist and author Brendan Leonard says, to be a runner “you need a steely resolve and the hard-won psychological tools to continually, day in and day out, drag your procrastinating ass out the door and actually begin running.”

It’s worth the struggle to get out there. After a run, my brain and body both feel a little bit better. Maybe yours do, too.