Whatever pent up stress I have melts away when I run. Vanished. Vamoose. Gone. Despite this beneficial side effect, there are still days of reluctance. I reluctantly put on my shorts. I reluctantly lace up my shoes. And I reluctantly drag my behind out the door. No sooner than I start my stride, however, am I glad I pushed past my reluctance.

So why the averse response when I am fully aware of the positive outcome?

Is it because I view running as something I force myself to do instead of something I allow myself to do? Perhaps. We are creatures of habit after all; and, with me being so new to the game of daily running, it is not quite a formed habit yet.

Thankfully, forced habit or willing, it does not matter. According to a recent study done by the University of Colorado-Boulder, even forced exercise produces mental health benefits, as well as the obvious peripheral physiological.

To seek an answer to the question (“Is forced exercise beneficial?”) Greenwood and his colleagues, including Monika Fleshner, a professor in the same department, designed a lab experiment using rats. During a six-week period, some rats remained sedentary, while others exercised by running on a wheel.

The rats that exercised were divided into two groups that ran a roughly equal amount of time. One group ran whenever it chose, while the other group ran on mechanized wheels that rotated according to a predetermined schedule. For the study, the motorized wheels turned on at speeds and for periods of time that mimicked the average pattern of exercise chosen by the rats that voluntarily exercised.

After six weeks, the rats were exposed to a laboratory stressor before testing their anxiety levels the following day. The anxiety was quantified by measuring how long the rats froze, a phenomenon similar to a deer in the headlights, when they were put in an environment they had been conditioned to fear. The longer the freezing time, the greater the residual anxiety from being stressed the previous day. For comparison, some rats were also tested for anxiety without being stressed the day before.

“Regardless of whether the rats chose to run or were forced to run they were protected against stress and anxiety,” said Benjamin Greenwood, lead author of the study appearing in the European Journal of Neuroscience and assistant research professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology.

The sedentary rats froze for longer periods of time than any of the active rats.

“The implications are that humans who perceive exercise as being forced — perhaps including those who feel like they have to exercise for health reasons — are maybe still going to get the benefits in terms of reducing anxiety and depression,” he said.

So I push on, pushing past the rat race that is everyday life. If I take a day off here and a day off there, soon I will be taking off the weekend, then a couple days during the week. Before I know it: I will have gone an entire week without running and eventually I will just give up.

I tried.

I failed.

What else is new?

I am old (and wise) enough to know my personality. Like many, I can fall victim to my own complacency.

It’s easy.

I’ve done it with exercising in the past, with running. I’ve done it in my writing.

Do you know how hard it is to try and write a novel?

Hard.

That’s why hard work is called hard work.

If it were easy, there would be a million desk lamps on at 11 PM in the Charlottesville suburbs pecking away at their keys, writing the next great American novel.

The roads would be filled like the morning of a marathon if running every day were easy.

But there aren’t a million desk lamps on at night.

And the roads aren’t filled with a sea of bodies sweating profusely and wiping their brow.

Forced.

Willing.

Reluctant.

Motivated.

It doesn’t matter.

You just have to keep on keeping on and remember why you are doing what you do in the first place.

I run for the health of my body, for mental clarity. I run every morning, so I can keep up with my kids every evening. I run for my family as much as I run for me, if not more.

Why do you run?

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