Saturday, 13 May 2017

Running for {mental} health

When I first started running I did so with one simple aim in mind. To get slim. And whilst this initial goal has continued to spur on my somewhat sporadic relationship with running over the years I now have a very different reason for pounding the pavements. Nowadays I run less for vanity and more for well-being. I run because it makes me feel good.

The fact that exercise releases endorphins {happy hormones} may be a well known fact but what other benefit could there possibly be for something which for the majority of us is bloomin' hard work and some days seemingly damn near impossible? Speak to any regular runner and they will tell you.


For me some of the psychological benefits of running include:

Lowering anxiety and depression:  Physical activity releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness.  You may experience a sense of "runners high" or even euphoria.  Or you may just feel a little bit happier about life in general.  Nevertheless running can lead on to....

An opportunity to unwind and clear your mind:  What better way to spend a bright spring evening then enjoying the great outdoors.  I've done a mixture of treadmill and outdoor running over the years but for me nothing beats getting outside in the fresh air.  I've grown to love exploring the country lanes around my house and finding new routes and beautiful places I never realised existed right on my doorstep.  Sometimes it's hard to take in your surroundings when you feel like your legs and lungs are about to collapse but take a minute to look up and around you, say hello to the new spring lambs {yes I do this} and admire the rolling countryside or river or wherever you may be.  Breathe deep.  Relax your shoulders.  Let your mind unwind and your legs find their pace.  This is where running regularly and getting a bit fitter is key.  Suddenly you can start to enjoy your run and really begin to understand what people mean by the aforementioned "runners high".



Better sleep:  I always {half} joke that my children sleep better after a glass of wine {for me not them. Obvs} and I find the same is true after a decent run.  It could be the nice warm shower, cosy pjs, hot chocolate.... or the fact that my brain has cleared and I'm just plain too pooped to rouse to their sleepy rumbles but either way we all seem to get a better nights kip which {as any parent knows} is pure gold.   

Social interaction vs. time to yourself:  I usually run alone.  It just works out that way as I grab opportunities to go as and when I can and actually I quite enjoy the solitude, especially once the boys came along - to have that space {physical and mental} and time to myself was a tonic.  I also like to go at my own pace, no pressure to keep up or go a certain distance.  If I want to stop and walk home I can.  If I want to go further that's fine too.  But when I do get the opportunity to run with a friend I actually really enjoy it.  It's easy to chat away the miles, especially if you're lucky enough to find someone your pace/fitness level is evenly matched to, and actually finding like minded peoplee,  having someone there to push you once in a while and to swap tips with is good too :)  I love the idea of joining a local running club but at the moment the timings don't work out with having the little people but maybe one day.


Increased energy:  We've all been there.  You're tired.  It's been a long day.  The last thing you want to do is any form of exercise.  And I totally agree.  But I also guarantee {unless you're poorly pops or injured} you will feel better and more energised if you get off the sofa, lace up and get out for a trot even just around the block.  Running gives me energy and helps me make better and healthier choices plus I feel a lot less guilty if {when} I decide to have a little {big} treat.  I have to constantly remind myself of this and although it may feel awful at the time ultimately I know getting out and going for a run will help. 

Learning focus and determination by overcoming obstacles:  The last long bank holiday weekend was a week before a 10k race.  I ate and drank my way through the whole weekend and probably {no joke} put on about 5lbs.  By the Monday I knew I really had to get out and do a half decent run to keep up with my pre-race preparation so off I went {extra 5lbs and all}.  2km in I stopped and had a mini tantrum.  I did not want to be out running.  I felt awful and in a proper grump.  If someone would have driven past me I probably would have asked for a lift home.  I grumbled and stropped.  But then I thought of the race ahead of me and gave myself a proper good talking to after which I got my head down and got on with it.  An {albeit sluggish} 8.8km later I was home and although the run itself was hard work I felt so much better in myself and was so glad I got on with it and didn't give up.  Running for me has helped show my sheer sense of determination and that I can achieve so much even when the going gets tough.  And that sense of achievement does wonders for your mood and self-confidence :)

 

You may have seen the recent two part documentary on BBC1 (UK), Mind over Marathon, where the 2017 Virgin London Marathon Charity, Heads Together, worked alongside ten unlikely runners living with different mental health issues to train and take part in the London Marathon itself.  If you missed it, look it up.  Not only were the stories eye opening {and sometimes very hard to hear} but the motivation and sense of achievement was captivating and the series really helped to highlight the psychological benefits taking part in a regular running programme could achieve.  I particularly liked Paul, who throughout the training was quite open about that fact that he did not enjoy running, but stuck at it because it of the difference it made to his mental wellbeing.  6 months down the line he no longer needed to take anti-depressants and found running 2-3 times a week helped him stay more balanced and in control of his emotions.  He may even enjoy it a bit now who knows!

All this goes to show that absolutely anyone can reap the mental health benefits of running or even just going out for a walk in the fresh air.  You don't even necessarily need to enjoy it {!!} And if you can find the mental strength to get through those bad runs you are working towards so much more than getting a PB {although that's always nice}.  Lace up and get out there.  It will get easier and I guarantee you will feel better :)

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