With 16,957,100 runners crossing a finish line in 2016, running is one of the most popular ways to exercise. But it’s not just a way to boost physical wellbeing. It’s also growing in popularity because it can make you more resilient to stress.
That’s a real need considering forty-two percent of adults say they’re not doing enough or aren’t sure whether they are doing enough to manage their stress. The American Psychological Association also reports one in five Americans say they never engage in an activity to help relieve or manage their stress.
How it works
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise has some direct stress-busting benefits, and you’ve probably heard your pavement-pounding friends mention one of them – the runner’s high. It’s the feeling runners, or really anyone participating in exercise, get when the brain produces feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
The American Psychological Association has another perspective, suggesting running makes us better equipped to cope with stress. When you exercise, your body’s physiological systems – all of which are involved in the stress response – communicate more closely, giving them a workout. And it’s this workout of our communication system that makes our bodies more efficient in responding to stress.
Whatever the science, the benefits are clear. But even with the “head knowledge” of how it all works toward your wellbeing, it can be tough to get started. These apps will help you take the first step and stick with it.
Couch to… apps
If you’ve never been much of a runner, or even gone for a jog for that matter, you’ll need help with a training plan and activity tracker, but first you’ll need to set a goal. It may sound like a lot, but 3.1 miles (commonly known as a 5K race) is a great distance to start.
This is where the tech comes in. C25K is an app designed to get beginners from couch potatoes to 5K distance runners in 8 weeks. C25K’s plan starts with running and walking workouts with rest days in between. During workouts, your audio coach will alert you when to walk, when to run and provides detailed stats along the way. As you progress, the workouts will get a little harder.
The app provides structure and helps you stay focused while preventing over-exercise at the start of the program – often the biggest factor in making a new runner give up. As the weeks go by, your fitness will improve and you’ll find yourself running further with more ease.
Wearable tech such as Fitbits and Apple Watches count your steps, and they’re great for reminding you when you should be going for your next run, or at least when it’s time to step away from your computer or TV to stretch your legs.
Combined with an app like C25K, the apps can be highly effective at boosting motivation, keeping you honest, tracking your progress and showing you what’s possible.
If you don’t have a wearable device, use can also use your mobile phone. Strava is a great mobile app for tracking your activities and progress and sharing your efforts with friends. When your workout is over, almost every metric is recorded, from speed, pace and distance to your performance compared to past attempts.
As you get more serious about your activities, Strava can serve as a resource to find new routes, the best trails if you want a change of pace from the pavement, even local training partners. Think of it as a social network for athletic content without the junk posts.
Ready, set, go
Stress can come from everywhere – work, home or maybe the drive between those two places! Managing your stress with the help of exercise starts with a commitment to try. It’s only after making that commitment that these tools can work in concert to improve your wellbeing. If making that commitment has you stressed, the best advice I can give is to register for a 5K in your area and start working toward that goal. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the personal gratification you feel upon reaching each new training milestone, and by the support you’ll receive and the new friends you’ll make on your journey to better health and a less stressful life.