I know what you’re all probably thinking…fitness…right?
And yes of course that’s a factor, I mean show me one woman who doesn’t exercise to help them stay in shape, but that’s not the main reason I run. And before you say it, no I don’t run for cake…although that does also factor!
No, the over riding reason I run is for head space. For me it is all about having what these days seems like a luxury, some time out from everything – people, work, housework, myself even. When I’m running I’m usually concentrating so hard on a) not falling over b) breathing and c) how much it hurts, that it doesn’t give me a chance to worry about how I’m going to get all my work done that week, or what on earth I’m going to feed the kids for dinner that night…I just simply run.
It makes me pay more attention to things as well, like for example what the clouds look like, the sound of the birds, or if I’m running at night there’s nothing nicer than looking up and seeing the stars. And with this mental clarity comes ideas and solutions that are way, way better than the ones I would have come up with had I been sat brainstorming at a desk. I’ve had my best, most creative work ideas whilst running and as I sit here typing this it’s made me realise I need to get out there and do it more often, because seriously I’d be ruling the world by now if I was running everyday!
There’s been a lot in the press recently about the mental health benefits of exercise, with a particular focus on running, and if you haven’t already seen the incredible two part BBC One documentary Mind Over Marathon then stop what you’re doing right this instance and watch it. Just make sure you’ve got a box of tissues to hand because it’s a right tear jerker (it got me in the first 10 minutes and I’m pretty hardcore!).
What is it about running that’s so good for our grey matter then? Can it really help blow away the cobwebs, brighten up the darkest of days and pull us out of the spiral of depression?
There’s a term that’s been coined specifically for that feeling you get after a run; ‘runners high’, and it is exactly as the name would suggest, achieving a ‘high’ from running. All exercise helps with the release of endorphins (happy hormones) around the body, however running has something a bit more special going on with it, something that Andy Lane, professor of sports psychology at the University of Wolverhampton puts down to “because running is an extension of a movement humans learn naturally as babies. It’s also rhythmic, so possibly there’s a meditative quality to it.”
He’s got it bang on, right…? Because when we run, we are creating a rhythm, we’re pacing our bodies which in turn makes us pace our minds too.
And the list of benefits continues…
- Lower stress levels – The fitter and healthier your body becomes, the better it is equipped to control the levels of cortisol in the body. High levels of cortisol has been shown to have a major impact on both our physical and mental health, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, mental illness and ultimately a lower life expectancy.
- Increased self-esteem – Now I realise that a huge hurdle for a lot of people who don’t run already, is getting out of the door in the first place. Maybe you think you’re too fat, not fit enough, that people will taunt you, you don’t like being in public spaces on your own, or a whole heap of other barriers stopping you from making that first step. But if you can get out there and do it and as you start to notice progress, improvements to your fitness and you become more and more addicted to how it makes you feel, I promise you it is going to do absolute wonders for your self-esteem. Start off with small, baby steps. There’s that saying “don’t run before you can walk” and it’s true; start by going out for a walk either by yourself, with a friend or why not join a local walking group. Then as you get braver, take on the next challenge and go for a run, again by yourself if you think you can handle it, or with a friend or join a friendly running group. Sometimes taking yourself out of your comfort zone is the best form of therapy you can give yourself, and yes of course it’s scary…it’s meant to be…but that sense of achievement is way better than any antidepressant.
- Socialise – Running opens up a whole new social circle, particularly if you join a group, and within that new circle of people you will make friends, friends who are going through similar battles as you and who can help support you as well be supported by you. From my own experience of running in a group, everyone is so friendly and there is absolutely zero pressure to run at a certain standard; no one expects you to be like Hussein Bolt, you have simply succeeded just by being there. And just like when you visit the hairdressers, you find yourself opening up to people you don’t even really know that well, but it feels comfortable to do that – no one is judging, everyone ‘get’s it’ and actually it helps distract them from the running itself! That feeling of inclusion, of being part of something, is absolutely key in the path to good mental health and by sharing your running journey with others it helps create a bigger sense of purpose – and that makes us happy!
- Calming – OK so when you run it’s clearly not as relaxing as meditating, or lying down on your bed and having a nap, but it creates a mindful calm by breaking up the cloud of racing thoughts that fill your mind and gives you clarity. And yes it’s physically exhausting, but it’s not mentally taxing – you try thinking about lots of different things whilst running, it’s virtually impossible trust me.
I’m not professing to having a particular mental health problem (although arguably we’ve all got our demons and to some extent we all experience the symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety etc.), but I certainly need time to be mindful and to be present in the moment, which is exactly what I get from running.
As a nation we are heading towards a mental health epidemic and I honestly feel that running could hold the answer for a lot of people. I’m not saying it’s a miracle cure, but if we can work together by raising awareness, talking about how we’re feeling and if we place greater importance on looking after ourselves by eating healthily, taking regular exercise, having regular health checks and taking time out, then and only then can we find the answer to complete mental wellbeing.
Why Do You Run?
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