The Joy of Running: Exercising for Mental Health
By Milly Hailstone
Another week, another mental health tip. With each passing week, I'm discovering simple life changes that can help us all, and in doing so I've stumbled upon a new hobby. It's something that I never thought I could enjoy, but not only do I love it, it's also working wonders for my mental health. Yep, you guessed it - running! Maybe it can work for you, too?
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I don't generally write articles that handle depression, but since anxiety and depression often co-exist, this tip could be great for people who suffer from both or either separately. A while ago I read that exercise can be just as effective as medication for the treatment of anxiety (without any of the horrible side-effects), and in the U.K, the Netherlands, and Australia exercise is a doctor-recommended treatment for depression.
I'd already noticed that my gym workouts had a fantastic impact on my mental wellbeing, as for the past few months I'd watched my anxiety slowly subside. However, with my improved fitness I decided to start a new hobby - something that involved exercise. I wanted to feel a sense of community, you know that feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself. I used to get this from being on a sports team, but I wasn't really sure if individual sports would be the same.
I was also terrified of running. I felt like it was something I couldn't do. I had really put it on a pedestal as something only super fit, marathon runner type people do. I suppose I'd been telling myself for years, "Oh, you can't run. It's too hard." Well, let me tell you, that's bullshit!
Anyone can run. You don't need to be part of a gym, you can hit the pavement at anytime, anywhere. This type of exercise is great for people with anxiety and depression as it gets you outside, and you don't need to make a commitment to the gym that you'll likely flake on.
Running is a type of therapy
At this point, I'm not content to let anxiety control my life and I am happy to make changes to my lifestyle to bring a different outcome. If you feel it's time to take back your mind, it's a great idea to start running. Sure, the first few runs are going to be hard. But, you'll soon start to feel the benefits.
It's amazing just how quickly you can progress. A few months ago I could only run for about 5 minutes without stopping, but now I can run for almost 30 minutes - that's around 5km! It's incredibly rewarding to see that kind of progress - something I don't really get from other areas of my life. It's a break away from the humdrum of the rat race. It's something new and it's something you can feel proud of yourself for.
Running also has incredible benefits on your mind. It literally changes the way you think. Yes, you get a rush of endorphins that make you happy, but there's more to it than that as well. According to various studies, it can actually restructure your brain as well as your mood and cognition.
After finishing a run, you feel like you've hit the reset button and can better handle the rest of the day. Your mind is clearer and you can feel proud because you have accomplished something that day. It's also a great way to keep your physical body healthy and lose weight if that's an issue for you. I definitely have anxiety around my body image (tbh, who doesn't?) so what could be better than something that keeps both my mind and body in check?
Beginner Running Tips:
If you're going to do this, let's do it right!
- Get a pair of proper running shoes and a high-support sports bra. I use Nike Roshe Running Shoes and they are so bouncy, fully recommend. Last summer I tried to take up running and I wore Converse Hi-Tops - big mistake - and I got an ankle injury and didn't run again for about 1 year... Wearing the right shoes is so important!
- Run slowly. I'm serious. You don't need to do sprints or anything. On your first few runs, walk for a few minutes, then jog for a few minutes, then walk, then jog etc, to increase your fitness level. If it's not enjoyable at first it can be very hard to make yourself go out for a run again. Keeping it slow it also a great way to avoid injury.
- Track your progress. Download Nike Run Club to track every run. This is a cool way to see improvements and every achievement you make gets noted. If you need some motivation, you've got to try the Zombies, Run! app which makes it seem like you are in an episode of the Walking Dead! You get to do missions, collect supplies and try not to get 'eaten' all while getting fit! It's so cool. Try out the free version and see if you like it.
Are you going to start running? If not, what else are you willing to do to improve your mental health? Let me know in the comments!