Running as a Therapy: Ableist Myth or Valid Treatment Option?

Today’s blog post is a guest blog from Abbey Whisler, author of the Spoonie Runner Girl Blog.    I’m not going to write a huge long introduction except to say that I am so glad that Abbey decided to write for Slay Girl Society and that this blog post is seriously AMAZING. Enjoy and leave a comment below!

I’m totally in love with running. I also suffer from anxiety, chronic migraines, and dermatillomania. Sometimes I think “Running is my therapy” might as well be my personal motto, and it seems that I’m not alone in this sentiment. The phrase crops up everywhere in the running fandom, written across merchandise, memes, and artsy Pinterest photos. Being the nerd that I am, I decided I ought to do some actual investigation and figure out if there’s enough science to support the idea that running improves mental health.


I sorted through studies cited by a really great article from the American Psychological Association, and I also found a few interesting studies via Google Scholar. The consensus of the scientific community seemed to be that there’s a significant correlation between running and a reduction in anxiety and depression, but the reason for that correlation remains unclear.


Here’s a few of the most compelling findings that studies on exercise and mental health have produced:


  • According to multiple large-scale surveys, active people report feeling less depressed than their sedentary counterparts.
  • Exercise can have an effect on depressed patients that is comparable to that of antidepressants. (Blumenthal)
  • Patients who participated in a two-week exercise program had less sensitivity to anxiety at the end of that two-week period than the control group who did not exercise. (Smits & Otto)
  • When two different doses of exercise were prescribed to two different groups of patients with major depressive disorder, researchers found that the patients who exercised more had the most improvement of symptoms at the end of that two-week period. (Trivedi)
  • The anxiety-reducing benefits of exercise are only associated with aerobic exercise lasting at least 21 minutes. (Petruzzello et. al)
  • The short term psychological effects of 21 or more minutes of aerobic exercise can be felt immediately, but patients are expected to see even more improvement with a long term exercise program. (Petruzzello et. al)


In short, what I learned is yes, running is absolutely good for mental health.


But while all evidence points to the fact that running is valid treatment option, I also want to dispel the myth that running is an adequate substitute for medical attention and professional therapy. That simply isn’t true. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are real and serious and deserve professional treatment. You never have to muscle through your illness alone. So as much as I love running and want to pass on my enjoyment of it to everyone I meet, I promise I’m never ever going to tell you, “Just go for a run, you’ll feel better!”


What’s your take on running and mental health? Comment to let me know your thoughts! And please stop by and follow me on WordPress, Twitter, and Pinterest for more geeky running and stigma busting content!


I want to express my warmest thanks to Bev at Slay Girl Society for posting my work! Your blog rocks, Bev!

9 comments on “Running as a Therapy: Ableist Myth or Valid Treatment Option?

  1. Pingback: Running as a Therapy: Ableist Myth or Valid Treatment Option? – Spoonie Runner Girl

  2. Greetings!

    I would like to help you with your endeavors on your website. I know this is bold of me to ask but I would offer extensive knowledge on mental health and substance abuse. I think you will like the link below. Think about it… and get back to me at your latest convince. I could just do factual information or blog and factual. I am very fascinating person and I do have ulterior motives. My second non-fiction book is being reviewed for publication and I need all the publicity I can get. In addition, I have a degree in English and training in Health.

    Kind Regards,

    Max Baumeister



  3. I agree that running (and most vigorous outdoor activity) is an excellent adjunct in a comprehensive treatment plan to improve mental health. And I love that the important caveat of all is emphasized: that running is an adjunct rather than a substitute.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Running is a very endearing and rewarding activity to do. Any type of challenging exercise is quite therapeutic, because, I think, our mind likes to succeed at things that are challenging. Even non-physical exercises can be rewarding, as long as they’re very challenging; things like winning at chess, or finishing a really hard and tricky videogame.
    That’s my opinion on this matter. Maybe I should write an article about it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: For When You’re About to Give Up pt.2 – The Dizzy Bull

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