Running is good for the body — but maybe even more beneficial for mind and soul. photo by Charlie Kanzig
By Charlie Kanzig
I certainly believe that running is good for the body, but the mind and soul as well.
As a high schooler, running was training for racing and I gave little thought to its other benefits. I believe that I was a senior on the onset of adulthood when I first began to recognize that running provided much more than the ability to run a fast 3K or complete a marathon.
Between seasons of cross-country and track most of my running was done solo since there were no organized practices in the winter months. The relatively mild temperatures in the Willamette Valley and shortened days meant long runs after school often concluded near sunset, but those rare days without cloud cover allowed for a few extra minutes of daylight.
On one of those clear days late January I headed out toward Stayton Island, an area east of town that afforded natural surface and no traffic since the site was managed for the City of Salem's water supply. As a semi-restricted area, Stayton Island was home to a variety of wildlife, many tall trees, and relative tranquility. A pair of workers acknowledged me with a wave as I headed around the three-mile loop. My image looked small reflected on of the large filter ponds with the blue sky overhead and maple, oak and fir trees as a backdrop. I recall feeling absorbed into the scene and experiencing a real sense of peace and satisfaction.
Living in Sisters for the past 23 years with a national forest outside my back gate I have enjoyed the luxury of access to nature, which I believe plays an equally important role as the running. As life became more complex, with demands of raising children, working as a school counselor, and navigating personal challenges, I recognized more deeply than ever the therapeutic impact of running.
I believe that most people who have been runners for any length of time agree that the benefits go far beyond the strengthening of muscles and improvement of the cardiovascular system. As I have grown older and slower my priority has switched to running for the mental health benefits and not being able to run as much the past two years has been a loss to me.
Rima Givot, a runner since high school, believes in the power of running.
"When I get out for a run I feel the stress flow off of me in layers, which allows me to clear my mind and feeling healthier," she said. She now shares her love of running with others through coaching cross-country at Sisters High School. "I want them to have the gift of running as a healthy lifestyle the rest of their lives."
I have read a lot of research on this topic that confirms my own experience. Multiple studies show that running can significantly reduce stress, increase mental sharpness, alleviate anxiety, and even be used as an effective therapy for clinical depression. Runners also report improvement in sleep quality, creativity, and even self-esteem.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has also concluded that the benefits of exercise for mental health are undeniable. An article by Kirsten Weir for the APA stresses that exercise has an immediate positive effect on mood and that mental health workers are increasingly prescribing exercise as part of patients' wellness plan in therapy.
Being surrounded by nature here in Sisters plays a significant part in the quality of our health. Most exercise produces the release of hormones known as endocannabinoids, which are responsible for what runner's sometimes experience as a "high," but spending an hour on a treadmill or elliptical does not appear to have the same depth of effect as getting outside.
Running in the woods can be compared to the Japanese practice of "forest bathing," which is the practice of spending time in the woods in order to cleanse the mind and renew the soul.
After eight years of study starting in 2004, Japanese researchers concluded that the health benefits of being out in the forest had such positive benefits that the government of Japan installed 48 "therapy trails" in the country as a result. Studies in Japan showed conclusive evidence that even moderate exercise among the trees increased the body's immune system, among other benefits.
A study by Japan's Chiba University concluded that, "Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity," the study concluded.
Walking, jogging, and running clearly is good for improved mental health, but taking the practice out into the woods apparently weaves in even more profound results, giving us all another great reason to hit the trails here in Sisters Country.
Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2017
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I'm really happy to see you are still writing for the Nugget. I'm reaching out because my wife and I will be visiting my parents towards the end of December and need to continue our training. We are running a half-marathon at the end of January and would like guidance as to where and how we can maintain our training. Coming from Texas and an elevation of 600' I will be a novice again in the Central Oregon landscape. Any help would be appreciated. Take care Kanzig and I wish you the best.