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Why Running Improves Productivity

Any runner knows, that our overall sense of happiness, accomplishment and health improves when we lace up regularly. Running is one of the most natural forms of movement, and a definite life-balancer. But did you know, that running makes you more productive, and better able to achieve your work goals, too? You might want to take this article along to your next performance appraisal.

We chatted to Craig Carolan for the science behind this concept. Craig is an ex-headmaster, positive psychologist and high performance & wellbeing coach. He is a trail runner that dabbles in mountain biking (M.Sc - Applied Sport & Exercise Psychology).

“Exercise has been shown to enhance our wellbeing in a number of ways. Runners have been shown to have decreased levels of stress, improved productivity, are less prone to fatigue (as long as they aren’t over doing it) and have increased levels of self-efficacy. In the longer term, runners (or anyone who exercises), are less likely to need time off due to illness.”

A few of the mechanisms that contribute to this are outlined below.

“Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology proposed the PERMA model of Flourishing where each letter of the acronym reflects a pathway to flourishing and enhanced wellbeing. 

It is easy to see how running gives us a practical way to actively address and engage in each of these pathways and therefore enables us to enhance our wellbeing and in so doing, be more productive. Here is a brief insight into how each of the pathways is addressed by running.

Positive Emotions - exercise is known to release ‘feel good’ endorphins into our blood stream. These chemicals enhance how we feel and, according to Barbara Fredrickson’s ‘Broaden and Build’ theory enable us to move into a positive spiral of emotions. By engaging in positive emotions, we broaden our perspective and hence our ability to notice and engage in other positive ‘moments’. 

Engagement - Running allows us to test and find our 'skills-challenge’ balance which enables us to go into a state of Flow (being ‘in the Zone’) more often. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the Positive Psychologist and author of numerous books and research on this topic proposes that Flow is one of the key ingredients to optimal experience. 

Relationships - Running is seen as an individual sport, but any runner will tell you that the camaraderie and social aspects of their running is a key motivator for continuing to run. Positive Relationships where we have a close group of friends who have common interest and offer a strong support structure to us, has been shown to be one of the greatest indicators of wellbeing.

Meaning - As Simon Sinek says 'Finding your why?’. Running is littered with stories of people who have literally changed their lives because they took up running. I am sure most of us know someone who believes that running saved their life. Running has enable people to develop that deep level of intrinsic motivation in their lives - whether it was trying to achieve their health goals or striving to beat their last time at an event.

Accomplishment - FKTs, PBs, Segment results, Kudos etc are all part of our make-up as runners. We see these mini accomplishments as targets and rewards for work well done. Goal setting plays a critical role in leveraging this pathway to flourishing. According to Seligman, accomplishment and reflecting on accomplishment builds positivity, it strengthens resilience and gives us an idea of what we are good at. Building self-efficacy and our belief that we can achieve things makes us more willing to try more. Accomplishment is not about ‘bragging’ - it is about building a belief system that enables us to challenge ourselves and strive for greater heights. Celebrating our success (both personally and with others) significantly boosts our wellbeing. These Achievements can never be taken away from us.”