The holidays are a hectic time of year. Many of us feel like we are going a mile a minute, shuttling between events, family commitments and errands. The world around us is also abuzz with activity—the hustle feels nearly inescapable. It is at least partially for these reasons that researchconducted by the American Psychological Association demonstrates that stress levels tend to rise this time of year.
Runners respond to this “festive stress” by either putting their training on the back burner and ceding to other priorities, or redoubling their efforts and continuing to pound the pavement. Research suggests you’re better off taking the latter approach. One study found that exercise helps to weaken the impact of stressful events and promotes well-being. Other research suggests that after working out we tend to react to things with less anxiety, even when confronted with stressful events.
If that’s not enough to motivate you to hit the road to log a few miles this holiday season, here are five ways running can help you slay stress:
- Running makes you more resilient: There’s no way around the busy nature of the holidays. There are parties to attend, presents to purchase, cookies to bake and family to entertain. Research conducted at the University of Liverpool suggests that exercise, “recruits a process which confers enduring resilience to stress.” While we can’t avoid the events that sometimes induce stress and anxiety, running can help us become less emotionally reactive in the face of increased demands.
- Running improves sleep: Not only do studies show that running improves sleep, but we also know that sleep improves running. A by-product of this process is, yes, you guessed it: a reduction in stress. When you don’t get enough sleep, the brain doesn’t get the chance to rest and recharge. Research shows that this affects not only our mental and physical wellbeing, but also your overall happiness. Quality shut-eye is essential when it comes to keeping you on an even keel through all the festivities.
- Running boosts mood: When you run, your body releases a cocktail of chemicals including endocannabinoids, serotonin and dopamine. These feel-good chemicals improve mood and decrease your perception of pain and discomfort. The holidays are notorious for bringing out a whole host of emotions, so doing something to prompt the release of these mood-boosting chemicals can help fortify your resolve in the face of stress.
- Running helps you stay calm and carry on: Not only can running help you deal with anxiety when it inevitably arises during the holidays, it can effectively rewire your brain’s response to stress. In a recent Venezuelan study, researchers compared the neural signals of running rodents to non-running rodents in response to a stressful event. While they saw a significant uptick in the gene markers associated with anxiety in the non-running mice, they didn’t in the runners. The latter group also displayed calmer behavior following the stressful stimuli.
- Running enhances your immune system: Nothing adds to the stress of the holidays like getting sick. While an intensely heavy training load can slightly lower immune function, moderate levels of cardiovascular exercise actually give your system a boost, reducing your risk of catching a bug. Since cold and flu season coincides with the holidays, heading out for a jog is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy this time of year.