Running Therapy for Depression and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Stress and Panic Attacks

Running therapy for depression and anxiety disorders


Running Therapy for Depression and Anxiety Disorders – Hypnotherapy in Ely and Newmarket

Recently I wrote all about completing my first marathon for seven or so years when I finished the Ely Marathon. And now I’m very pleased to report that I’ve finished an ultra marathon too!

The St Edmunds Trail Race is a well organised event that takes place around Ickworth Park and surrounding villages, near Bury St Edmunds. It was a cold, wet, icy and muddy affair and I was pretty happy when I finally crossed the finish line. Ickworth Park is a National Trust site and it was lovely to jog around some paths that I’d never been down before. After that it was a case of heading out across some increasingly muddy paths before heading back into the park again. I had some nice chats with other runners on the way around and I’m massively grateful to all of the marshals who stood out for hours in the wet and cold cheering us on (and making sure we didn’t get lost!).

My main goal was to finish the 50km in six hours which, allowing for a few minutes, I successfully did. And, as always with these sort of things, there are plenty of learning points for next time (once my legs recover and I can manage stairs again!).

Many people I work with are runners or do some other form of exercise. This may be to support their weight management, to help with their mental health, or simply because they enjoy it. Sometimes as part of their sessions they want to improve their running, others want to get back started and sometimes they want to get their motivation for running back and to start enjoying it again.

Whether your thing is running or some other form of exercise, there are massive benefits for your physical and mental health from moving. Running and exercise have a wealth of research to support how beneficial they can be if you struggle with anxiety or depression symptoms.

And a recent study, that I’m covering in this article, has examined the effects of anti-depressants versus running therapy on both your mental and physical health.


Running and Exercise for Anxiety and Depression

As well as being good for you physically, running and exercising can help with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

I’ve written before about the research into running and exercise for anxiety and depression in these previous articles:

Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health

Anxiety and Exercise – Anxiety Hypnotherapy in Ely

Depression: Does aerobic exercise have anti-depressant effects?

Exercise & Mental Health – Depression, Stress & Memory

And if you are a runner or want to improve running then I’ve covered many aspects of running performance and improvement, as well as sports psychology in this article:

Marathon Training and Mindset – Hypnotherapy in Ely and Newmarket

And, whilst I’m feeling particularly proud of myself for my ultra marathon completion, here’s a little look at the awesome medal that I received and that I’ll be adding to my medal collection:


St Edmunds Trail Running - Hypnotherapy in Ely


Running Therapy for Depression and Anxiety

I’ve often talked about how, when I suffered with anxiety and low self-esteem, running was one of the main ways I used to boost my mental health and well-being. It got me out and moving, gave my stressful feelings at outlet, and it gave me an opportunity to process things in my head if I wanted to. By the end of a run I would always feel much better and would often have closed out some of the troubling aspects of the day, or at least have decided on some positive steps I could take. Not only that, but there is a bit of a buzz that comes from getting out and getting a run completed which can boost your sense of self.

Fast forward to now, and running has become a way that I manage and support my physical and mental health, alongside other exercise and training. At school I hated all exercise and would try to get out of it, now I miss it if I can’t exercise for some reason. No matter how hard it can sometimes feel to get up and get ready (especially on those cold, dark mornings), you always feel better afterwards for having done it.

Alongside the studies mentioned in the articles I link to above, we also have some recent research supporting running therapy for helping with anxiety and depression. This research compared running therapy to anti-depressants for help with depression and anxiety disorders (Verhoeven et al, 2023).

Anti-depressant medication and running therapy are both considered effective treatments for depression and anxiety disorders. This study examined the effects of anti-depressants versus running therapy on both mental and physical health. Participants with depression and/or an anxiety disorder took part in a sixteen week treatment where they either took anti-depressants or took part in group running therapy (two or three times a week)..

They found that while both interventions had comparable effects on mental health, running therapy outperformed anti-depressants on physical health, due to both larger improvements in the running therapy group as well as a larger deterioration in the antidepressant group. The running therapy group reported a decreased heart rate, increased lung function, reduced waist circumference and lower blood pressure (in contrast, anti-depressants can lead to weight gain an increased blood pressure).

All of which adds more support to the benefits of incorporating some running into you routine if you want to feel both mentally and physically better (the study here didn’t examine the use of both medication and running together).

Of course, there are potential upsides and downsides with either approach. Medication doesn’t work for everyone and there can often be unpleasant side effects. However, it is very easy to adhere to taking medication as there is minimal impact upon your day to day routines.

In contrast, running requires more time and effort but can address the sedentary lifestyle that can be found in people struggling with depression and anxiety. Running therapy encourages you to go outside, set personal goals and to get fitter (and potentially interact with others if it is a group running setting). All of these things can counteract the typical thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are associated with depression and anxiety. On the flip side, however, the effort required in changing routines could mean someone is less likely to stick with it despite the proven benefits to their mental and physical health.

In conclusion, we showed that while antidepressant medication and running therapy did not statistically significantly differ on mental health outcomes in a sample of depression and anxiety disorder patients, the interventions had a significantly different and often contrasting impact on several physical health outcomes, with more favorable outcomes for those in the exercise intervention” (Verhoeven et al, 2023).

In essence, these results support the benefit of running for both your mental and physical health if you struggle with anxiety and/or depression. If you struggle to get out running on your own then do check out what your local running offers (for example, Ely Runners have a very friendly, supportive and welcoming beginners group, and there may be something similar near you). Whilst it requires some time, effort and persistence, running can soon become an integral part of how you tackle anxiety and depression as well as a proactive way of supporting your own physical and mental health and well-being.

To your health and happiness, 

Dan Regan

Award Winning Hypnotherapist in Ely & Newmarket


Struggling with anxiety, stress, worry and fear and need some help? Find out how I can help with a Complimentary Hypnotherapy Strategy Session. Learn more here: Appointments

Find out what dozens and dozens of other people have said after their hypnotherapy sessions with Dan: Hypnotherapy Testimonials

And check out these powerful hypnosis downloads that can start helping you right away with anxiety, confidence, negative thinking, running performance and more: Hypnosis Downloads


Reference: Verhoeven, J.E., Han, L.K., Lever-van Milligen, B.A., Hu, M.X., Révész, D., Hoogendoorn, A.W., Batelaan, N.M., van Schaik, D.J., van Balkom, A.J., van Oppen, P. and Penninx, B.W., 2023. Antidepressants or running therapy: Comparing effects on mental and physical health in patients with depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders329, pp.19-29.


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