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December 9, 2023

Psychologists Reveal Tips To Trick Your Brain Into Enjoying Running

Psychologists Reveal Tips To Trick Your Brain Into Enjoying Running

It’s no secret that exercise is good for you. Cardio exercise such as running has been shown to promote heart health, reduce cancer risk, support the immune system, improve sleep and mood and overall lead to a longer, healthier life.

The problem is, many of us find it hard to commit to regular cardio when even a 30-second run to the bus stop causes your heart to feel like a bass drum in your throat.

In a new book, published on September 25 by Taylor and Francis, sport psychologists Noel Brick and Stuart Holliday have laid out a series of psychological tips and tricks to train your brain into finding running more enjoyable.

“The first thing is to understand your ‘why’ or your reasons/motives for running,” Brick, a lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at Ulster University in Northern Ireland, told Newsweek. “We know that those who have meaningful reasons for running are more likely to maintain running longer term and get through those challenging experiences when running can feel hard, unpleasant, and not particularly enjoyable.”

It can be hard to motivate yourself to start running at the beginning. But there are some ways to trick your brain into enjoying it more.

These motivations will differ from person to person. For some it might be health or weight loss, others might value the social connections, and some may be training to run for charity. “Whatever the motives are, having a meaningful reason helps us through those difficult experiences and keep running longer term,” Brick said.

The next thing is to set manageable goals and track your achievements. “Experiencing improvement, noticing new achievements, or knowing that we are getting better can also help us keep running through difficult moments,” Brick said. “Noticing these improvements and reflecting on achievements, no matter how small, are important to keep us going.”

These reflections can also improve our belief in our own abilities, which in psychology is called “self-efficacy.”

“Our strongest sources of self-efficacy are past experiences or accomplishments,” Brick said. “So, feeling like you are improving, like running for a full minute for the first time without stopping, or finishing your first [10 miles], provide a powerful boost to our self-efficacy that helps to maintain running behavior.”

However, how we choose these goals varies depending on our level of experience. “We recommend that beginners try setting non-specific open goals rather than specific goals,” Brick said. “While specific performance goals provide a fixed target, like 10,000 steps, open goals are exploratory and instead focus on ‘seeing how far I can go’ or ‘seeing how fast I can run.’

“What the research shows is that beginners can achieve just as much when set an open goal versus a specific goal. However, despite similar levels of activity, open goals are viewed as more enjoyable and less pressurizing.”

Another mistake made by many new runners is related to their pace. “Often, we go far too fast at the start, meaning that we fatigue more quickly and have a pretty unpleasant experience while doing so,” Brick said. “Knowing our limits and knowing how to pace a run takes time to learn. So my best advice is to go easy at the start, even if this means following a run/walk strategy.”

Even short periods of running have been shown to provide mental and physical health benefits, “As little as 10 minutes of running, or walking, per day leads to significant health gains, such as improved mood, lower risk of anxiety and depression, improved brain health and cognitive functions such as memory and attention, and reductions in our risk of death from all causes,” Brick said. “So, you don’t need to run long distances or for hours a week to gain these health benefits. As little as 10 minutes per day, going at a slow, moderate intensity is ideal for health improvements.”

Lastly, it can help to look for distractions. “Music can be extremely helpful as a distraction during exercise and provide benefits for our running experience,” Brick said. “Music can help to increase enjoyment, reduce boredom and increase our work output during exercise, meaning that we workout for longer, or with higher energy when listening to music than without. Music can help to lower perception of effort, meaning that running feels easier and less strenuous.

“Key qualities when selecting music are the rhythm—tunes with a bpm between 125-140 are best—and personal preferences in terms of genre.”

Of course, listening to music isn’t always an option or you might prefer to be more present in the world around you. In these cases, other forms of distraction may be more beneficial. “These include chatting with a running partner, running in nature settings and focusing on scenic views or simply letting your mind wander,” Brick said. “Distractions such as these also help to make running feel easier, more pleasant, and more enjoyable. Running in nature settings is also associated with improvements in mood and mental health outcomes beyond those improvements gained by running alone.”

For more experienced runners, Brick and Holliday’s book, The Psychology of Running, also delves into psychological techniques to improve your speed, endurance and enjoyment.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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