Runner’s High Lifts Depression

By Cheryl Hart, M.S.

“Talking to myself and feelin’ old,
Sometimes I’d like to quit,
Nothin’ ever seems to fit,
Hangin’ around, nothing’ to do but frown,
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”
—- Karen Carpenter

All of us have cloudy days when it seems the sun will never
shine.  Winter months make us feel trapped inside, with no fresh
air, sunshine or exercise.  Before we know it, we are caught in
a vicious negative cycle that many times leads to depression.
Studies have shown that runners are considerably less depressed
than those who are inactive.  Not only is running therapeutic,
but it reduces depression so rapidly, it has been called the
“wonder drug.”
Even when psychotherapy is appropriate to treat emotional
problems, exercise can serve as a substitute for medication to
ease the symptoms of tension and depression.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Elmer Maggard of Danville, believes
that suppressed anger, grief and depression are distinct but can
get tangled up.

“This tension doesn’t go away. It needs to be released in some
way.  Stomping, punching and oral aggression are some of the
normal anger expressions.

“I prescribe exercise in many cases.  Physical exercise
involving a lot of respiratory exertion discharges energies
associated with depression.  It’s an emotional release and a way
to ease any sense of loss or frustration.”

Vigorous exercise is one of the best ways to release built up
turmoil and emotions that drain the body.  It acts as a
tranquilizer, giving a relaxing effect that makes us feel

“We don’t have to think when we run,” said running expert Jeff
Galloway.  “We can put our minds at rest and take off.  Our run
often becomes an island of tranquility in the midst of a
hassled, busy, pressured sea of daily activity.”

Usually it’s when we least feel like getting out there to run
that we need it the most.  After a good workout, it’s amazing
how different the whole world looks.  Tension has eased,
problems seem manageable and the blues are usually gone.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone mention experiencing a “runner’s
high.”  This sense of calm, strength and energy makes you feel
as though you are floating.

Exercise stimulates the release of a chemical called
beta-endorphin which has an opium-like effect on the brain.
There is also an increase in a hormone produced by the pituitary
gland (ATCH) which also promotes a sense of well-being.
Just last month, a study made public by the Georgia Institute
of Technology and the University of California, Irvine, linked a
marijuana buzz to a runner’s high.

“High levels of anandamide were found in young men who ran or
cycled at a moderate pace for about an hour.  Anandamide is a
lipid molecule that is produced naturally in the body and gives
the same sensations that are similar to those in the
psychoactive property in marijuana,” said the report.
So the feeling is not just psychological. It’s a result, at
least partially, of brain chemicals and hormones which result
from vigorous exercise.  Studies show that physical fitness and
mental stability go hand in hand.

This means that individuals who are aerobically fit may be
capable of recovering more quickly from physiological or
emotional distress.  While exercise alone will not eliminate
depression, research suggests that it is an effective, drugless
means of therapy.

Dr. John Greist of the American Psychiatric Association
believes that running is just as effective as psychotherapy.
His research team concluded that the antidepressant effects of
running are due to an overall sense of accomplishment and the
alleviation of tensions.  It is also a known fact that people in
better physical condition are better able to deal with stress.
“Running emphasizes what individuals can do to treat their own
illness and has beneficial physical side effects in contrast to
available drug treatments for depression, “said Greist.

One runner describes how running makes a difference in his
life.  “Each run is tied to self-discipline, self-denial and
self-control.  In a world where I often feel helpless,
victimized and controlled, running helps revive feelings of
hope, strength and conviction that I can be responsible for me.”
The next time you’re feeling blue or stressed out, take control
of your life by choosing positive action.

Finally, two rules from Dr. Richard Carlson.  The first is,
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  The second is, “It’s all small

 Cheryl Hart, owner of 2nd Wind Motivation, helps individuals, teams and corporations establish and achieve goals.  She is a motivational speaker, performance enhancement consultant and life coach.  She is also a certified fitness specialist and has a master’s degree in sports psychology at the University of Tennessee.  Cheryl has run in 40 marathons and is an All-American triathlete and duathlete, competing internationally on Team USA with podium finishes.  She has received numerous awards, including National Inspirational Athlete, Kentucky’s NCAA Female Athlete of the Year, SCAC Runner of the Year and SCAC Coach of the Year.  She conducts workshops and retreats designed to motivate and transform lives and businesses. To contact Cheryl call 693-7443, e-mail or visit



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *