Over the past few months, I’ve laced up my sneakers perhaps more than I ever have before. Whether it’s on the treadmill or up and down the island of Manhattan, I’ve logged in more miles than I think my sneakers can handle—FYI, they’re falling apart. My habit has inevitably led to friends and peers asking me if my running habit has anything to do with a fitness goal. Are you trying to lose weight? Are you training for a race? What’s the deal with all this running?
To answer the question I’ve been asked repeatedly, I’d like to draw upon the words of scholar Elle Woods of Legally Blonde—minus the terrifying shooting your husband part. "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy."
While it’s no new scientific breakthrough, exercise has been linked to a boost in positivity and an overall reduction in anxiety and even depression. I run to not only keep my heart pumping to the best of its ability and maybe to burn some calories when I went crazy with pasta servings, but to ease any stress and flip any generally negative emotions, giving the phrase “run it off” another very literal meaning. I've run through breakups. I've run through disagreements with my family and friends. I've run through world conflict and affairs that keep me up at night.
It’s an opportunity to test out mindfulness practices I’ve picked up over the years, the ones I have such a hard time doing while sitting in my apartment. It’s hard to focus on calming down when you could stress over the unwashed dishes, student loan bills, the lack of storage in your closet, and your annoying neighbors’ high-pitched voices traveling through your paper-thin walls. Oh, is that only me?
But combining movement and meditation isn't a new idea either!
Ever heard of walking meditation? It’s when you concentrate on the breath in the present moment while putting one put foot in front of another—over and over and over again. For the generally restless (me), it’s therapeutic and has helped clear my head in the toughest or most emotional of situations. But for the restless who genuinely love sweating and exercising (also me), the same can apply to running. Learning how to pace your breaths while running is integral, as is, and obviously so, putting one foot in front of the other. People have authored a plethora of books on the topic, like Running: A Love Story, and guides for how to start adding mindfulness to your run.
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And the combination of meditation and exercise, specifically aerobic exercises have actually been proved to help decrease depression. A Rutgers University study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry found that when 30 minutes of focus-attention meditation and 30 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise were combined, those with depressive disorder reported less symptoms of depression. Even those who didn’t have major depressive disorder and were considered healthy also reported less symptoms. This combination is nicknamed MAP training, or mental and physical training.
While I’ll never complain about the physical benefits that zoning out on the treadmill have brought me, knowing that I can work towards toner calves and a calmer state of mind is what really has me lacing up my sneakers. So that's why I run.