Running and Your Head

Running around your Head

Though you move with your feet, your primary reason for running (or dancing or trekking) is not to make your feet stronger. At the other end of your body, what are all the many things to consider for your head when it comes to an activity like running?

If your immediate reaction is “Eh? What’s my head really got to do with running?” then reading through this will answer the why, what, where, when and how.

A lot of what I say translates into other activities like walking, dancing or cycling.

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Why the Head?
1234Strategy Tip
The 2×2 Grid and Connectedness
Controlling the Grid
Banality & Caveats

Spatial Positioning
Hair (or no Hair)
1234Blood Flow
1234Outbound Neurotransmitters
1234Euphoria = Ananda
1234Emotional Stress
1234Thoughts while Running
Light & Vision
Sweat and Wiping
Pollution & Precipitation
Food & Drink

You are Heading Out

Why the Head? [top]

Your head is an entry point for solids, liquids and gases that help your activity or hinder it. Your head also houses your built-in natural devices for receiving signals to direct your movement and also keep you away from danger – seeing, listening. Your head also houses your brain. Your brain is your centre for processing signals you receive from the outside environment. Your brain also interacts with the rest of your body along 2 networks – via the rapid communication nervous system and via the slower channel of blood that comes into it your brain and then leaves it as part of your circulatory system.

Strategy Tip: If you live a lifestyle to have a good future for the health of your head, the health of the rest of your body will follow automatically.

The 2×2 Grid and Connectedness [top]

There are things internal, external, visible and invisible for us to give different types and different levels of attention to. Let us do that systematically.

Although we can place each of these things easily into one of the cells of the 2-by-2 grid of what is internal-external to you and what is visible-invisible to you, it is important to always bear in mind that “everything is connected”.

Which of these (examples) can you control?

Controlling the Grid [top]

When thinking about any specific part of the grid it is important to be aware of what you can control and the extent to which you can control it. For example, you cannot control the level of pollution in the air today, but you can choose when you run and how you breathe when placing yourself in polluted air.

Banality & Caveats [top]

It is my requirement that I remind you Why you need not run.

In an attempt to cover breadth without significant depth, there is brevity but also banality in some of what I say here today. Read on for perspectives and points you may have not considered before.

Although I touch upon many different aspects here, you will need to consider additional factors when running in very extreme temperatures (below freezing and above 50 °C) or at very high altitudes or in very heavy storms or heavy snowfall. On the other hand, at temperatures within 0-50°C when exercising in high air pollution this article will definitely be useful to follow.

This article is not medical advice. It moves along a better dimension – a culture of prevention, capital preservation and thriving for a longer Healthspan.

OK, so now let’s get on with it. [Mottos for Perpetual Growth]

Spatial Positioning [top]

To keep your spine in a neutral position in the cervical (neck) area it will be best to keep your head as if looking into the far distance ahead. When looking at very near distances (the landing points of the next few footsteps) only shift your gaze and not your head.

Hair (or no Hair) [top]

If you have hair on your head, depending on its length you may have to make an effort to prevent it from flopping in front of your eyes, or generally going out of control. If you have no hair, that is one less thing to worry about!

Headgear [top]

Above 0°C and below 40°C you should not need any covering for your head if you have hair. Hair protects the top of your head from intense sun and also from the cold.

If you have no hair, some headgear to replicate the function of hair in very cold weather and very strong sun may be sensible.

Hair or no hair, when running in the hot sun, do not wear a tight cap that traps heat. It is better to wear a visor to shade your eyes but to leave the maximum surface area of your head open so that it can cool naturally. It is wise to place functionality above fashion. [Read: Internal Culture – Why I prefer NO helmet]

Brain [top]

Blood – Continuous and relatively constant blood flow to the brain is vital to your survival. Originally thought to receive steady blood flow, your brain has shown to experience increases in blood flow during exercise – this may be a result of an increase in your brain’s metabolism when you exercise. [top]

Note: The benefits for the brain of running or other forms of vigorous physical activity are considerably more than have been documented so far by scientists.

Neuroplasticity – When you run, there is an increase in the production of BDNF – a molecule involved in learning and memory. And, over time there are beneficial changes to your hippocampus, the part of your brain that is involved in long term memory storage as well as spatial processing and navigation. [top]

Planning – If you are smart about your running, you will never get injured. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Your running will lie within a spectrum between relaxed with negligible benefit and traumatic with negative benefits. With mature planning, you can always find the zone that is a sweet spot when it comes to the scheduling of your runs, the distance you run on any particular day and the pace at which you run that particular distance. [Read: Questioning Fatigue] You use your legs to run but you must use your brain to plan the run. There is a reason we make strategic and tactical decisions at the head-quarters not the leg-quarters! [top]

Action – If you split your run between the need to be intensely focused (tricky terrains) and easy flow (familiar route and easy terrain), you will get a good mix of 2 actions [a] brain training and [b] engaging with the types of thoughts that get triggered only when you are moving your body through nature. [top]

Outbound neurotransmitters – be they endorphins, dopamine, endocannabinoids or any other neurotransmitters – when released, they improve your state of well-being. [top]

Euphoria = Ananda – Whether it is anandamide or some other combination of endocannabinoids that generate a good feeling after exercise, what matters is that you are always mindful that the way to destress or feel even better than you do is to include an appropriate amount of running (or some other equivalent physical activity) into the rest of your day. [top]

Emotional Stress is what you feel inside you from either a physical phenomenon outside you or some non-physical thoughts that are within your mind. Whatever be the source, it is your response to the source of stress that decides whether you are emotionally calm or stressed. Your lifestyle and specific protocols within that lifestyle affect your ability to handle shocks. It is well known that even though running itself is an intense activity, those who run are able to handle shocks better than those who are sedentary. This is not a special power that comes from running per se but from any relatively vigorous physical activity. Stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are both better managed when you have an appropriate level of physical activity in your days. [top]

Thoughts while Running – You were born with only 2 tools – your body and your mind. When you run, thoughts arise and live in your mind. It is great to use your body intensely to move through nature and be able to generate thoughts that are almost impossible to generate when sedentary. Some of your thoughts may be related to the experience of your body and other thoughts will be about various topics of interest to you. Creativity and innovative ideas germinate and flourish beautifully, very often at random, when you run. [top]

Mindfulness and running as a duplet I have written about here and a video recording of a related conversation is here. [top]

Consciousness is at a layer beyond the physical activity of your brain or the active thinking in your mind. For today, all I will say is that running is superb for enhancing your consciousness. [top]

Eyebrows [top]

For physical activities, the primary purpose of your eyebrows is protection from sweat and moisture dripping straight into your eye sockets. Your eyebrows provide a channel for most liquids to drip down to the side of the face. If you shape your eyebrows by trimming the hairs beware that you will be reducing their effectiveness for providing this structural protection.

Eyes [top]

Your eye contains an important part of your brain – the retina. As your eyes are an extension of your Central Nervous System, you have to protect your eyes for their long term use each time you are outdoors for activities.

When running you need to have 3 areas of focus for your vision: long-distance views (dangers and route planning), medium-distance views (dangers) and short distance attention (for dangers including where your next 8 strides might have their landing points on the ground). [Technique, Form, Progression]

Light & Vision [top]

Running in the dark is not what your species has evolved to do. Even running in low light just after sunset or before daybreak poses a greater risk than running in bright daylight. Be sensible and keep your running to daylight hours. If you are fortunate to be able to manage your schedule such that you can run just before the lunch hour in high sun, you will accrue additional benefits.

Spectacles [top]

If your vision is impaired and you do not wear contact lenses you do have the advantage of a layer of protection from dust, wind and flying insects. If you do run in the high elevation strong sun like I advocate we all do, it is worthwhile investing in a pair of good quality prescription sunglasses. Alternatively, get a pair of glasses with photochromic lenses that change, when in the presence of UV light, from transparent to dark and also block UV light.  If you wear contact lenses you can wear good quality vanilla sunglasses that will be cheaper than prescription sunglasses.

Good fit and lightweight. And, don’t forget to clean your spectacles and sunglasses before and after each run!

Sunglasses [top]

If you are running towards the sun, I strongly recommend you wear a good pair of UV blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes from harsh sunlight falling directly onto your eyes. Whereas your skin benefits from the harsh high sun, your optical equipment is more sensitive to (perhaps) irreparable damage from solar electromagnetic radiation.

Sweat and Wiping [top]

Whether or not you wear a sweatband around your head (I don’t) it is practically useful to tie something akin to a handkerchief around your hand at your wrist to wipe any sweat off your forehead before it gets to your eyes or eyewear. When removing spectacles or sunglasses to wipe your eyes be careful to do it such that no sweat gets on the glass because you may then be running while looking through glass with natural oil smudged on it. Not fun!

High sun exposure; UV-light eye protection; Sweat wiping handkerchief

Ears [top]

Besides the dynamic balance that your (inner) ears help you with, you need your ears to receive danger signals e.g., from traffic. In addition to enjoying the sound of birds or the sea, you need to be mindful that in very cold winds your ears that are relatively thin but have high surface area exposed may be more comfortable with some heat insulating protection.

Headphones/Earphones [top]

Leave these at home for greater safety and mindfulness. If you have to listen to something important through your earphones, wear only one earphone to allow other danger signals (e.g., lorry honking, wild dogs barking) to reach your brain. [Read: Treadmill, Gym – Bored?]

Nose [top]

The nose is for breathing in. Best to use it for breathing out too. Air that you breathe in through your nose is filtered, warmed up to your body temperature and reaches 95% humidity. When you breathe in through your mouth like you must NOT, this does not happen.

When you breathe in through your nose you also reach Nitric Oxide produced during the in-breath to your lungs and that increases the ability of oxygen from the outside to reach your working muscles more effectively through gas exchange in your lungs and transportation via your blood circulation. Nitric Oxide also kills many pathogens that were in the air you breathed in. When you breathe in through your mouth that does not happen. Not difficult to guess if I am afraid of any version of the coronavirus 😉 [Read: COVID-19 – It is NOT a war against a virus]

Sometimes during your run, your route may change your environment e.g., from a humid beach to dry road, from sunny fields to shaded avenues, windy hill to forest with still air. When there is a change in the air entering your nostrils, the mucus production in the membrane of your nose will increase or decrease the production of mucus. There is a short time lag and you may (correspondingly) feel that the air you are breathing in is uncomfortably dry or, the converse, that your nose is running like you are 😊 Be patient, like all difficult times in life, it too will pass and you will enter a new dynamic equilibrium soon enough.

Air [top]

The humidity and temperature of the air will affect how you feel on your skin. When you start your run, you will feel cooler than when you are cruising after a few kilometres. In cold weather that is welcome, and in hot weather it is something you have to enjoy as beneficial stress.

If you use running as a method to master your breath, you will find running in very cold weather or in very hot weather not much of a problem at all. [Read: Hyp*thermic Conditioning]

Pollution & Precipitation [top]

The rest of your body has a natural protective layer – your hair, your skin, your nails and any clothes you wear. Your head is typically most affected by both pollution and precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, hail). If you have learned to breathe correctly then air pollution problems will be less of an issue than if you still breathe through your mouth like most city dwellers do when they are out running or cycling. Read about the tradeoff between pollution and weather.

Mouth [top]

This needs to be kept shut at all times unless there is an emergency need to shout or speak. Hydration is typically needed only for runs that last more than an hour. Food is only needed if you are running more than 30km and are not yet fat (burn) adapted.

Food & Drink [top]

These enter your body and make you what you are – not just physically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. With running often viewed as primarily a physical activity (which it is not) the conversations around a runner’s nutrition take up a lot of mind space with regards to physical recovery but if you do that without paying attention to the fact that what you eat affects your mind you will be limiting your running journey also. [Read: The Paneer ki sabzi Oxymoron]

Skin [top]

Depending on the quantity of hair you have on your face or the top of your head, you have different levels of exposure to the wind, air and sun for your head. If you are smart about it, you will get high and harsh sun exposure for long enough for your skin type to get a deep tan and only just avoid burning. I have already spoken about beneficial sun exposure quite extensively here.

To the extent that you are able to generate perspiration, besides it being good for you to excrete toxins, it also provides a protective layer against both the sun and certain germs until you wipe it off. [Read: Ageing & Time Travel – Reversing & Improvement]

Makeup [top]

If you eat right and sleep right, you should never need makeup to look better if you also ensure that you exercise regularly. Earlier generations were fooled into thinking there was no real harm in layers of chemicals on their skin, near their eyes, or on their lips. Don’t be part of your generation that continues to live in willful blindness of the downside of superficial beautification. Unless your TV producer requires it for a few minutes for the show you are doing, stay away from makeup whether you are running or out dancing. [Read: Internal Culture – Healthy Narcissism]

You are Heading Out [top]

I hope that the next time you spring into action to dance, cycle, trek or run you are mindful that it is your head that is most involved. There is a reason my tag line is “It is the refusal to think that is evil”.

If you found this useful, please do please share it with your friends.

If you would like to be guided in detail to have the best life possible, you know how to reach me.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

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