Yes I know the theory, and yes I know I feel on top of the world after (most) runs.
But I have never been in the situation where I have had to struggle with serious mental demons.
However, I wanted to share with you the story of a runner I know and his experience of using running to help not just his physical health.
I’ve agreed not to share his name, but I think the story he tells is one worth knowing.
Here’s his story in his words of how running came to his rescue…
One Runners Personal Story
“Why would you bother wasting your teenage years exercising when you could be enjoying them?”
I lost count of the number of times my peers asked me this exact question in high school.
They were referring to my daily routine of waking up every morning at 5 a.m. to go for a jog before school and then going to the gym in the evening or playing a game of football.
This question would always go unanswered as I was unable to explain the reason in a short and simple way.
Growing up, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which led to me being an overweight child.
I was very shy around people and never felt comfortable with myself.
I had no self confidence and preferred to spend my days sitting at home instead of going out and playing with the other children.
However one day when I was 12 years old, all of this changed.
My father, who was a regular long distance runner had suggested I try going for a run.
I agreed with no hesitation and the next morning I set out for a jog for the first time ever.
“Maybe this isn’t for me”
As I stepped out of my house I felt the cool morning breeze on my face. I started with a slow steady paced jog for about five minutes before running out of breath.
“Maybe this isn’t for me” I thought as I pushed myself to keep going.
I remember the pain in my legs was excruciating and got worse every second.
“How do people do this every day?” I kept wondering as my legs went numb and my breathing got heavier than ever.
While I kept going, I saw the silhouette of a man in the distance getting closer by the second.
As he approached me I underwent a brief moment of paranoia.
“What if he laughs at me?” I thought as numerous insecurities filled my head.
Finally the moment came when we crossed paths and looked each other in the eyes.
Despite all my negative thoughts, the man simply smiled at me and said, “Good job, don’t give up.”
Those were the most powerful words anyone had ever spoken to me and I could feel new energy that I didn’t know I had.
I was still out of breath and could barely feel my legs anymore but those words pushed me to keep going.
“A sense of accomplishment I had never felt before.”
Eventually as I came to the end of my short 3km run, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I never felt before.
I felt like I had just climbed Mt Everest.
Having walked back into my house my father had a huge smile on his face.
Following the buzz I got from this first time, I continued to explore other forms of sports and fitness such as football and strength training at the gym and over time I felt like I got a second chance at life.
My self confidence shot up and I became a more outgoing person.
As I started making more friends I decided to help others like me and guide them on their own fitness journeys.
This is just a simple example of how exercise has benefited my mental health although there are many other ways in which it can help people.
It’s Not Just In The Mind
This is just one small story of someone who found that running was a great way to turn their life around.
And although running helps us mentally, it is not ‘all inside our head’, there are good scientific reasons that taking up any kind of physical exercise will help the way we feel.
Here are just a few of the scientifically proven facts about the impact of sports on mental health:
- Exercise helps release endorphins which are the naturally occurring “happy chemicals” in the body
- When we exercise, levels of the stress hormone cortisol go down.
- Exercise helps individuals get better sleep at night.
- Exercise increases levels of Serotonin which is a chemical that helps regulate mental health.
- Physical activity also stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which can improve an individual’s mood.
Exercise can benefit anyone with mental health problems even if you are not a fitness fanatic.
Research shows that even moderate amounts of daily exercise can greatly improve mental health.
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD and more.
- Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication but without the side effects.
- Exercise is also a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins.
- As the body and mind are closely linked, physical activity helps relieve stress. Exercising helps relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body.
- Lastly, physical activity boosts the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain, which affect focus and attention. Thus, exercise is considered as good as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
As I have mentioned above, exercise greatly benefits mental health and this is backed by scientific research.
If anyone is suffering from any of these issues or even if you are not, exercising will be a great aid to your well-being.
How To Get Started Running
For anyone who sees the benefits of starting to run and wants to start themselves, here are a few tips to ensure you have the best chance of not just starting, but to keep running:
- Start small and slowly increase.
For example, if you want to start running, don’t try to run more than you can on the first day. Start with what you can do and slowly increase the distance or time at regular intervals giving yourself enough time to adapt to the new physical stress applied on the body. This is very important as many times overworking yourself will lead to sore muscles and might discourage you to keep going.
- A great way to start running in a structured and safe way is to follow the “Couch to 5K” plan.
There are a number of Apps out there in addition to an NHS website that will take you through this plan and most areas of the country will have regular C25K programmes if you don’t fancy doing it on your own.
- Eating healthy is as important as exercising.
Obtain the right nutrients to fuel your body through the day as well as through your exercise session.
Focus on having a balanced diet with the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
- Rest is another thing that must be considered.
After exercise, your body needs time to recover and it is important that you get enough rest to ensure that you get a proper recovery. If this is ignored, it may lead to injuries over time. Recovery time is JUST as important as the exercise.
- Fitness is a lifestyle and it is not like a hobby which can be done for a while and then forgotten about.
To reap the benefits of exercise, it must be done consistently. Exercising for 20 minutes everyday will benefit you more than exercising for 60 minutes twice a week.
- Join a Club
Even if you don’t see yourself as a ‘real’ runner yet, joining a running club is a great way to help with motivation to continue.
In addition to the motivation, the social interaction provided by like-minded individuals is also a great help in terms of mental health.
It is fair to say that running has multiple benefits.
Whether that be the obvious physical benefits of getting stronger, fitter, and slimmer…
…or the less obvious benefits of improving your mental health.
Running is most definitely good for anxiety, and for a multitude of other mental welfare issues.
Why not give it a go and discover the benefits for yourself.
Resources used when writing this article…