While most women run for physical and mental health, several of us also run for the boost in self-confidence that fitness provides.

You Go, Girl!

There are plenty of great reasons to take up running—from keeping your heart and bones strong to helping you maintain a healthy weight. But running can also give you something that isn’t as easily measured: self-confidence. For example, one study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that exercise boosts self-esteem, especially in younger girls with a higher body mass index (BMI).

One way running helps you build loads of self-esteem is by turning negative thoughts into positive ones.

“We all engage in negative self-talk,” says Adolescent Health study co-author Dorothy L. Schmalz, M.S., Ph.D., associate professor of health, kinesiology and recreation at the University of Utah School of Medicine. But, as she explains, getting out and doing a healthy activity like running can boost our mood and energy (hello, endorphins), which then inspires positive self-talk that encourages us to make another healthy choice (e.g., getting a salad at lunch or taking a walk instead of watching TV). This creates a cycle where healthy habits and self-confidence continue to feed into each other, ultimately helping us create even greater changes that have a positive impact on our lives.

“Even just going out for that quarter-mile run, you think it’s not much, but it can really precipitate a lot of other little changes that can make a big change when they are all added together,” Schmalz says.

Running can also boost self-esteem as you gain more experience. Once you log more miles—and maybe even finish a race or two—you start to appreciate how far you’ve come. Over time, that feeling of accomplishment can spill over into other areas of your life, from personal to professional, and inspire you to take on challenges you might not have considered otherwise. “If we do something like run a 10K and we never thought we would do that, we start to say, ‘Gosh, maybe I can tackle that project at work,’” Schmalz says.

Another dimension to running and self-esteem is the role that identity can play. If you begin to identify as a runner, you also begin to identify with all the positive aspects associated (i.e., grit, fitness, health), which can inspire you to stay consistent with your running routine. “The more integrated it becomes into your identity, the more likely you are to participate in it regularly and really appreciate the benefits it provides,” Schmalz says.

Since women often put the needs of others ahead of their own, running can give them an outlet to escape from the stressors of life: “Running particularly has a way of allowing us to burn off those stressors and get the endorphins, which can really lead to more positive self-talk and feeling better about the world around us,” Schmalz says.

Avoid Direct Comparisons

If you’re just getting started with running, it may take a little time to see your self-esteem improve. It’s especially important in the beginning to simply recognize that being out there running at all is a big deal, so don’t get hung up on comparing yourself to more experienced runners. According to Schmalz, women often fall victim to thinking that if they don’t run like an Olympian, they shouldn’t bother, “but there’s so much benefit that can be gleaned from getting out and running a short distance to build up your fitness.”