Running and mental health

It is Mental Health Awareness week this week, and thankfully mental health has become a much higher public priority, and much more talked about than it used to be. The UK is reportedly facing a mental health crisis with one in four adults and frighteningly large numbers of children and young people suffering from mental health difficulties. It’s easy to see why – the stress of exams, jobs, the housing crisis, social media, and an unstable world out there, amongst other factors, are a toxic cocktail of things which cause anxiety and other mental health problems.

It’s well-known that physical exercise is good for your mind and soul. For me, running is one of the best things I can do to make myself feel better when things seem to get on top of me. Being out in nature, getting some fresh air through my lungs, and escaping from the internet, email and my phone, are the things I love most about running. And that’s if I’m by myself….going for a run with a friend, having a good chat along the way, and generally putting the world to rights is hard to beat. I always return from a run feeling better than when I left, even if it was hard work.

Experiencing nature is one of the best things about running, and we really are spoiled in the UK with so many gorgeous parks and green spaces. This time of year is especially lovely, and I often stop and just have a look at the trees, birds, flowers or whatever is around. It’s like taking a short mindfulness break in the middle of a run. I ran through the delightful Isabella Plantation (below) in Richmond Park recently – the perfect place to take a few moments out just to notice and observe the wonders of nature.

One aspect of running that I find really doesn’t help my mental health is my GPS watch! Always being able to see your speed, heart rate, distance covered, and any number of variables about your run is not always helpful, because it just piles pressure on you. Am I really running that slowly? I’ve only run 2km but it feels like eternity?! My HR shouldn’t be that high at this pace! I’ve seen this in many athletes I coach, and my advice is just to leave your watch at home sometimes. Running is such a simple, free and enjoyable sport and yet we allow ourselves to be slaves to our watches. If you feel like your mental health is suffering, try leaving your watch at home and just enjoying running for what it is.

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