Whether you’re an international superstar who has just competed in Doha at the World Championships or more likely a normal runner like most of us, one thing is for sure: going for a run with a friend will do amazing - positive - things for your mind!
You don’t need anything special, just a pair of shoes, a mate to chat to and you’re away. It’s running’s worst kept secret - it’s simple and inexpensive and it’s great fun; you’re outdoors and the world is your oyster. Whether it’s football, last night’s telly or simply how you’re feeling, there’s no end to subjects to chat about.
But it’s that ‘how you feel’ that often gets ignored. Poor mental health, for instance, leads to half a million men taking their own life every year. That’s one every minute. And behind most of these statistics is a very simple fact: men don’t talk!
“Don’t you dare hide it away,” says England’s fastest race walker Tom Bosworth who just recently competed in Doha. In the past, Tom has suffered from mental health issues, but with help – not to mention his athletics – he has conquered any issues he has struggled with.
“Don’t you dare think that you are a burden upon anybody because you are not at all,” he said in a recent interview. “Life is definitely worth living because there are plenty of highs and lows push you through, but it’s those highs that are worth living for. Your family want to be a part of that, your friends want to be a part of that and it is a lot of fun.”
It seems almost impossible to believe given the high profile world these superstars appear to live in, but mental health issues can impact anyone. Andy Baddeley, one of England’s finest milers told Mind, the mental health charity “It's a ludicrously hard thing to admit to feeling depressed, especially when I have no way of quantifying it.”
“Am I depressed enough, or am I simply dealing with feelings and anxiety that everyone experiences? Other people don't complain, so what gives me the right to feel self-pity? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that it feels like a weakness to admit it. As a sportsperson, mentality is the key to success. I pride myself on my mental toughness – I feel like I have dealt incredibly well with some very challenging situations, in life and in the sport that I love.”
Click here to read more about Andy’s story.
Certainly, runners are keen to do something about it. James Martin is running 84km a week this November to raise awareness of the 84 men who die of suicide in the UK a week. Just over two years ago James discovered that running helped his mental health immensely, giving himself time to order his thoughts and relieve his anxiety on a more regular basis. He now has his own charity, the Movember Foundation and has raised thousands of pounds to help.
To highlight its importance in all of our lives and to mark World Mental Health Day, we’ve teamed with England Athletics to talk about #RunAndTalk which aims to improve mental wellbeing through running and break down mental health stigma by getting people talking.
Before you try and say running isn’t for me, allow us to correct you on that one! Running is for everybody regardless of pace. There is no ‘too slow’.
Instead, it’s all about finding time for yourself and experiencing everything getting out in the fresh air provides “I found a version of me I really liked when I was running. You won’t get a better feeling. It’s just immense,” says Kevin who has discovered the inspirational power of running.
What are the benefits of running groups?
Don’t think that you’ll be giving it your all and trying to break records. For instance, the ‘MileShy’ club in Sale holds a session that involves no more than a really pleasant walk along the canal.
“It gave us a renewed appreciation of how beautiful it is where we live. We also shared some tips on how to deal with stress in our daily lives. Exercising near nature was one tip,” says Trish Morgan, a Mental Health Champion. Similarly, Redditch STARS organised a #RunAndTalk session with ‘mindful minutes’ at the start, middle and end for their runners.
Organised #RunAndTalk runs are led by a UKA qualified leader or coach and some runs will also have a volunteer Mental Health Champion joining in. All the Champions have experience of mental health problems themselves or through close family and friends and are passionate about improving mental wellbeing through running.
Sue Tetley, TRISudbury Mental Health Champion says, “We started a regular monthly RunAndTalk event now as it’s gone down so well! It was great to see people turn up on their own and then go away with a real buzz having spoken to so many people they didn’t know.”
Ossy Joggers in Lancashire illustrate this perfectly. They started in 2014 with just two people wanting to run together. As of this year, they have over 100 runners attending on their busiest days with at least 14 qualified run leaders. They have had a big impact on the local community and organise really engaging events for their runners and get involved in quite a lot of different activities.
How running helps
Running can lower stress levels, provide you with better self-esteem and is a fantastic way to help battle depression, as cardiovascular exercise not only releases endorphins but also gives you a psychological boost. Research even found that people who exercised had 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health per month than those who didn’t. And the most powerful effects seemed to come from team sports, likely due to the social element.
Running shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face helps us feel less exposed and we can talk to our running partner more easily. It’s much better to run with groups of people who have started exercising or running clubs as you can naturally overcome more barriers.
Other benefits include:
- It sharpens your memory and helps with learning new skills
- It helps you sleep better
- Runners often have higher levels of self-esteem
- It can reduce anxiety symptoms and help you relax.
- It helps you eat better - after running for one hour, a study showed that runners are more likely to opt for healthy dietary choices that included fruit and vegetables over junk food.
The #RunAndTalk programme has been created with the aim of improving mental health through running in England. Supported by Mind, the mental health charity. Fitness First are supporting the cause because:
- We want to get people talking about mental health, sharing their experiences and removing the stigma.
- We want to provide support and guidance to raise awareness of mental health issues.
- We want to support people experiencing mental health problems to be physically active through running, whether that is to support them in starting, returning to or continuing to run.
Check out www.runandtalk.co.uk which is a growing community of runners near you to find out more.