Study suggests we’re running for our mental health more than ever before

The study looked at 14,000 runners across 12 countries during the pandemic.

For many runners, that daily run during the COVID-19 lockdown has become a lifeline. Some time away from the harrowing news stories and a small amount of solitude from the worldwide pandemic affecting all aspects of day to day life. Yet during this time it has sometimes felt like the parks and paths are busier than ever as new runners lace up and get outside. Are we just more sensitive to the volume now we have to keep 1.5m apart, or are we embracing running on a scale we haven’t done before?

A study by running brand ASICS set out to answer these questions and explore the ‘ new-found love of running’. The study of 14,000 people across 12 countries found that more than a third (36%) globally and 43% in the UK are exercising more now than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Figure’s from the brand’s fitness-tracking app Runkeeper saw a 667% rise in registrations in the UK during April 2020 and a 105% increase in monthly active users compared to the same time last year. It also reported a 98% spike in the number of people in the UK heading out for a weekly run.

Running for mental health

78% of the runners questioned in the study said being active during the pandemic made them feel ‘more sane and in control’. 82% of UK runners say running is playing a key role in helping them clear their mind during lockdown.

Encouragingly, runners said they were keen to keep up their active habits when the crisis is over. 72% of UK runners said they want to continue running as much as they are now after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end.

Dr Brendon Stubbs, an exercise & mental health researcher, based at King’s College London said: ‘As one of the first multi-country studies, the results demonstrate that during lockdown, running has become a lifeline for many people to boost their physical and mental wellbeing. These findings support previous evidence which has demonstrated that regular exercise is effective to prevent and treat mental health conditions. Overall, the study by ASICS reinforces what we instinctively know: physical activity makes us feel better and never has there been a more important time to become active and experience the mental health benefits from movement.’

Linda van Aken, VP Running, ASICS EMEA says: ‘Despite the lockdown and social distancing measures, exercise and running in particular have become central to many people’s daily lives. Our study’s findings prove that a run is much more than just a run, especially in times of crisis. It’s a way for people to put aside the mental pressures and challenges of this pandemic and feel free.’

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