Dr's Casebook: Research shows that even a short run can lift your mood

I am currently training for a half marathon.

By Jane Chippindale
Thursday, 3rd February 2022, 9:30 am
Lift your mood with a run. Photo: Adobe
Lift your mood with a run. Photo: Adobe

Dr Keith Souter writes: It may seem odd, but I tend to do it in the early morning before sunrise. That just seems the right time for me, so I get back for breakfast already in a good mood.

I make no bold claims about my running. I go at carthorse speed and really focus on completion of runs rather than times. I find it a good time to think and I enjoy getting out in the fresh air in the early morning.

I was pleased to see a research paper from Japan just published on short moderate intensity runs and their effect on mood and their potential benefit on mental health. They conclude that just ten minutes produces measurable changes in mood and cognitive function, which is mirrored by increased blood flow to parts of the brain that control mood.

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Previous studies on exercise and mood have tended to use cycling as the exercise, but this study deliberately chose running because it is such a natural thing for humans to do. It involves complex brain-body control of balance, movement and propulsion.

Twenty-six healthy participants were monitored running on treadmills for ten minute periods. They had cognition and mood testing before and after exercise using well recognised psychological test methods.

They used various tests including the Stroop Colour Word test to examine executive function. The Stroop test involved showing incongruent or puzzling information during the activity.

For example, the word red would be written in a green colour. The participant would have to name the colour rather than read it out.

This actually means that the brain has to process two sets of information and eliminate the puzzling one. The times taken to do so allowed them to quantify the results. After ten minutes of moderate-intensity running, there was a significant reduction in the Stroop effect time.

The participants also recorded better mood scores.

In addition, using thermal neuroimaging they were able to confirm increased blood flow and activation in the prefrontal cortical regions of the brain involved in mood control.

So, just jogging for ten minutes can lift the mood, help you think and helps blood flow to the brain.

If like me you run before sunrise just be careful of potholes.