Can running beat medications for anxiety and depression?

 Running is good medicine. Ask any marathoner, triathlete, cross-country runner, track star, sprinter, or weekend jogger. We can trumpet the health-related virtues of exercise, cardiovascular fitness, and stress relief – which all come with running regularly.


 Now modern medicine is making that claim official. Running is good medicine, and perhaps it even trumps medications often prescribed for anxiety and depression.

 A recent medical research study in the Netherlands examined 141 depression/anxiety patients over a four-month period. Some were given escitalopram (Brand name: Lexapro), an antidepressant medication. Others received running therapy. Although both groups experienced some antidepressive improvements, the running group also enjoyed better overall physical health benefits. (in terms of remission and response). The Journal of Affective Disorders published the research study findings in 2023.

 The researchers pointed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as mood boosters for the medication group, reducing anxiety and depression. In the running group, two to three 45-minute runs weekly brought about slightly better antidepressive improvement than the other group. In addition, the running participants bettered their overall fitness, while losing weight and reducing their blood pressure and heart rates. And the running group faced no potential drug side effects.

 The only trouble with the running group seemed to be that a few participants dropped out of the training sessions over the four-month period. As we all know, the benefits of running only hold true, if we stick with it.

 Those findings don’t even take into account the famous “runner’s high,” brought on by increased endorphin hormones released in the body during rigorous exercise.

 So, yes, running is good medicine for lots of reasons.

 We could have told you that. In fact, we probably did. Runners know the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of making time to crank out a few miles. And we know how crummy and cranky we can feel when we can’t get our runs in.


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Image/s: Public domain photo


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Do you stop to visit friends mid-run?

 Gotta run!

 Picture this. You’re running along outdoors, clocking your miles, when you see a friend or neighbor, beckoning you to come near. Or maybe you encounter someone you know on the trail. Do you run on past him or her, or do you stop to visit for a few minutes? 

For me, it depends on several factors. Here’s a dozen possible considerations, on-the-fly. (I'm just being honest here.) Maybe you can think of more questions you’d ask yourself right about then.

  • Am I trying to beat incoming weather?
  • Am I sneaking in a run during a scheduling crunch?
  • Am I meaning to contact this person anyway?
  • Am I just starting my run?
  • Am I overdue for a deadline?
  • Am I pretty sure this person will want an extended conversation?
  • Am I nearly done with this run?
  • Am I struggling with this run for some reason?
  • Am I eager to connect with this person?
  • Am I clocking an important training run?
  • Am I gearing up for a tough race?
  • Am I running to keep up with my training buddies?

 I guess the point is that there’s no hard-and-fast rule that a runner has to stop and chat, when a simple hand-wave can suffice for now. It’s always possible to follow up later with a call or a text or a social-networking message.


If you do stop to socialize, do you pause your activity tracker?

I wish I’d remember to pause and restart my Garmin, every time this happens. (It’s especially tricky in colder weather, when we tend to wear several layers of sleeves, along with mittens or gloves.)


To jabber or to jog? It’s always a judgment call.

Maybe sometimes it’s important to pause and enjoy the journey, greeting a friend along the way. But sometimes we just have to send a wave and keep on going.


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Why do runners crowd the road shoulder?

 Beep-beep! Road runners (Nope, not the feathered kind.) dash and dart along city streets, county roads, rural highways, and other thoroughfares. We pound the pavement, logging training miles for marathons and more. Frequently, that means we endure honking (and other signals) from motorists, as they roar past us. 


For safety reasons, pedestrians (including runners) are supposed to go against traffic.

 Non-runner drivers may wonder why runners often crowd the road shoulder, perhaps even stepping over the line into the actual roadway at times. Quickly, at least 16 reasons come to mind, listed alphabetically.

  1. Agricultural equipment – It’s not unusual for rural runners to encounter balers, mowers, planters, plows, sprayers, and other farm tools along the edges of roads that pass farm fields. Short of vaulting over these, joggers have to step sideways to pass them.
  2. Broken glass – This is a sticky widget for runners. Who wants to plant a sneaker on someone’s discarded liquor bottle or other glass item?
  3. Car parts – Hubcaps, blown tires, and other automotive components clutter roadways. You guessed it: joggers have to steer around them.
  4. Chewing gum – Gross! This is a sticky widget for anyone making tracks along a route.
  5. Dead stuff – Roadkills are buzzkills for runners. ‘Nuff said.
  6. Dog droppings – It’s hard to pick up the pace, if one steps where someone else failed to pick up after pet.
  7. Gravel and slippery sand – Got road construction? Navigating such areas in running shoes requires detours, often into the edge of the actual roadway.
  8. Ice and snow – Winter runners can bank on it. Snowplows don’t usually clear road shoulders. That puts us right in the path of oncoming drivers, as well as their slushy/salty splashes.
  9. Mud – It doesn’t take an unpaved dirt road for a jogger to find mushy mud. And don’t get me started about potholes.
  10. Parked cars – This is extra tricky on curvy roads or when drivers park their cars half-in and half-out of driveways. (If I had a nickel …)
  11. Pets – Runners appreciate it when pet owners control or otherwise contain their pets. Sometimes pet perimeters extend all the way to the edge of the road. So we might veer away from an excited or seemingly agitated animal.
  12. Puddles – Splish-splash, I was taking a run. Wouldn’t you rather step around a puddle than in it? Ask any runner about cranking out miles in soaked sneakers.
  13. Ruts – Unkept road shoulders or areas of soft, soggy ground can trip up runners. That puts us in drivers’ path.
  14. Tall or thick vegetation – Can you say, “Ticks”? If you’ve ever found an embedded tick after walking or running through unmowed grass or woodsy areas, you get the picture.
  15. Toys and bikes – I’m still surprised to see these left along roadways, unless it’s bulk pick-up day.
  16. Trash – Whether dumpsters or piles of discards, these send runners sideways to avoid tripping or other surprises.

 Generally, runners do our best to stay out of harm’s way. Most of us are not deliberately trying to interfere with traffic. But sometimes we have to shift our paths a bit.

 Sure, it’s courteous and safer for runners to go in single file, if we’re running along a road. But we still may step into the street, if the shoulder sports hazards. And, of course, runners are supposed to go against traffic, unlike bicyclists and those in/on other wheeled vehicles. It helps when we can see vehicles coming in our direction. But we need drivers to look out for us as well. (Dare I launch into a diatribe about texting and inattentive driving?)

 Maybe that’s why many runners choose to log their miles on trails, rather than roads, whenever possible. Some even stick to walking/biking paths or even sidewalks.

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Image/s: Public domain photo


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Can you run with sleep apnea?


It’s not exactly sleepwalking.

 Lots of runners find themselves gasping for air after a speedy sprint. Maybe that’s why so many of our finish-line race photos are so comical, or even scary. But what happens when runners (or other folks) experiencing gasping or a struggle for air while sleeping? Doctors call that sleep apnea, and it’s not uncommon among runners.


“You can’t have sleep apnea. You’re not fat.”

 My primary-care physician actually said that to me, while I was training for another marathon. “If you can run a marathon, you surely don’t have sleep apnea,” he added.

 My Garmin watch/activity tracker consistently showed respiratory and heart-rate fluctuations and awakenings overnight, during hours when I thought I’d been sleeping.


One sleep study later, I was diagnosed.

 Based on that experience, I began researching apnea and running. Here’s what I learned.

 Sleep apnea affects some 10-30 percent of all adults in the US, according to the Sleep Foundation. It’s a sleep disturbance, marked by plentiful nightly episodes of cessation of breathing. These not only affect respiration, but they also increase blood pressure and heart rate, as the body struggles with the lack of oxygen.

 Basically, apnea causes breathing troubles and poor sleep, which domino into all sorts of complications. Apnea sufferers may experience choking or gasping. The lack of quality sleep can cause morning headaches, daytime drowsiness, reduced energy and endurance, slower muscle recovery, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, memory issues, weakened immunities, dramatic snoring, and more. What’s more, apnea increases a person’s risk of heart and brain issues over time.

 Contrary to my own doctor’s pat answer, apnea isn’t restricted to those with excessive weight, although it’s most commonly associated with obesity (and frequently with diabetes). It’s found among those with narrow palates and necks, as well as those with thicker palates and fattier necks. Men are more likely to have it than women, and it’s more often diagnosed in folks aged 50 or older. Not everyone who has apnea actually snores. And it can run in families.

 Once diagnosed, apnea sufferers are generally prescribed CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy, wearing masks with hoses connected to monitored devices.


Where does running come into play?

 Exercise has been found to help those with sleep apnea for multiple reasons:

  • encouraging cardiovascular health
  • gaining lung capacity
  • reducing stress (and stress hormones)
  • increasing endorphins (How we runners love our endorphins!)
  • helping with weight loss
  • reducing abdominal and neck fat (common with obstructive sleep apnea)
  • improving strength and fitness
  • bettering sleep habits

 These benefits combined can help to reduce the severity of sleep apnea effects for lots of people. Of course, sleep apnea experts urge everyone to consult their own physicians before embarking on new or increased exercise programs (including running).


Running can be especially helpful with sleep apnea.

 Pounding out a few miles in the great outdoors, while rhythmically breathing fresh, open air, has been lauded as therapeutic for those with sleep apnea. Actually, running or walking can be helpful.

 The trick is to choose an optimum time of day for running (or workouts), while energy and endurance may be as high as possible. For many runners with sleep apnea, that means lacing on sneakers early in the day.

Additional frequent advice for those with sleep apnea focuses on weight loss, healthy diet, good hydration, non-smoking, side sleeping, and regular exercise.


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The worst-run race I ever experienced ... and why

  But first, full disclosure. I’m not actually gonna tell you which race it was. Not worth the litigation exposure.

 Any runner who has done more than a few races can tell stories of the best and worst run events. Be they 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, full marathons, or ultras, each race has a story.


This is not that race.
This is not that race.


What lessons can be learned from the worst of all races?

 A few years ago, I splurged on a fancy themed destination half marathon, starting and finishing on an historic resort property. The website was flashy. The swag looked swell. The course photos were scenic. And a friend was an enthusiastic race ambassador. So I signed up.

 Oh, boy. Was I in for a surprise or what?

  1. The entry fees were higher than most major races. This might have been OK, if the race was aimed at benefiting some worthy charity. But nope. It was all for-profit.
  2. The race expo was miniature, despite big hype beforehand. Basically, the only exhibitors were the race company, the pacer organization, and a couple of referral/multi-level marketing (read: pyramid) sellers hawking scents and soaps and such. There wasn’t a running-related vendor in sight.
  3. The swag tees were flimsy and cheap. To make matters worse, several runners didn’t receive the sizes they ordered. And for those who did, the fit wasn’t as expected.
  4. The race map was generic with no race info. The race company had simply copied the resort’s publicity map. No race directions, course routes, or other relevant information was added.
  5. The location wasn’t all it was advertised to be. Who knew the pretty lakefront locale would be overcome by lake algae, with wave ripples sending sludge and foam along the shoreline running path?
  6. Parking was very limited. Runners who opted not to stay as guests at the resort property had to park along the edge of a busy, curvy county highway and hoof it to the race location. They also neglected to arrange for shuttling relay runners to the midpoint. (I didn’t do the relay, but I heard this was a real quagmire.)
  7. They had no PA system for the start (or finish). This led to some confusion, as mid-to-back-of-pack runners could not even hear the start. And it was a good thing runners knew the national anthem by heart, even if we couldn’t find the flag anywhere around.
  8. The course roads were open. Ever run a half marathon on the narrow or non-existent shoulder of a county highway? (Remember what I said about runners having to park out there too?) OK, some of the course traced a running path, but after the first mile or so, the course hit the roads. And so did the traffic.
  9. No split clocks on the course. Hey, they barely even had directional signs. And that’s only if you count chalk arrows on the ground at various turns. (And don’t get me started about the total lack of course marshals to direct runners and vehicular traffic.)
  10. What? Only two aid stops for a half marathon? And all they offered was water -- lukewarm water on a hot summer morning.
  11. The final stretch ran across loose gravel and the resort’s lawn. Tired runners trudged through bumpy terrain to reach the finish line. Smile for the cameras, folks! And don't step on those flower beds. Just leap over them.
  12. The finish line ran out of waters before half of the field finished. Who counted the registrants and then planned the purchase of finisher water bottles?
  13. The post-race breakfast ran out of food. The race promotional materials highlighted the fancy eggs Benedict and bacon breakfast. Photos displayed tables of colorful fresh fruit, elegant pastries, and assorted giant cookies. But anyone crossing the finish line after the first 100 runners or so had to settle for a paper cup of warm water and a granola bar.
  14. One bartender was expected to serve hundreds of runners at the after-party. Mimosas for everyone! Well, only those who got there first or stood in a line that wrapped around the whole crowd.
  15. The race organization became my permanent pen pal after the event. Despite many unsubscribe requests on my part, they continue to flood my email address with announcements for this event and others they hold in various destinations. I think I will pass.


What were the pluses?

 They had fabulous pacers (actually a different company) and really spiffy finisher medals. And my friend (the race ambassador) gave me a 10% discount code on the event.

 Was that enough?


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·        Choosing running races: How do you pick which races to enter?

·        Race aid stations - What are they serving this time?

·        Race management: 10 tips for choosing race tees

·        Race volunteers are both valued and violated

·        Sports nutrition: What runner foods do you hate?


Image/s: National Parks Race - public domain photo


Feel free to follow Runderdog on Twitter, as well as Run Run Run in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois (Runderdog Runs the Midwest) on Facebook. Please visit my Amazon author page as well.

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