Keep on running

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart.” Bill Bowerman

I have been hugely inspired over the past two weeks watching both the Brighton Marathon (which handily passes the end of our road) and the London Marathon (on TV!). It amazes me what people are capable of and I’m in awe of those I know (and don’t know) who’ve taken the plunge and run it.

It’s incredible to see the power of sport for social good and it really is an inspirational event. I’m not embarrassed to say that both marathons left me in tears, particularly the stories of why people were running and their determination to do so. The resilience that many show in the face of terrible traumas is humbling and also makes you appreciative of what you have in life.

Having recently got into running myself, I have no doubt of it’s benefits. Despite initially doing it as a bit of fun, I’ve now become slightly addicted. I love the high the exercise gives you and beating my personal best gives an added boost when I do my local 5K Park Run. Beating those “I can’t” thoughts and seeing what your body is really capable of is incredibly empowering and great for stress relief. I also find it a good chance to think things through and clear my mind (even with Drum and Base blaring from my headphones!).

For those interested in the psychology of running and why exercise iso so beneficial for mental health, there is a great article by Christian Jarrett and Ella Rhodes in this month’s British Psychological Society (BPS) magazine.

A recent study in Cognition and Emotion by researchers at Harvard University asked participants about their ability to handle negative emotions and then asked half of them to jog for 30 minutes while the others rested. Afterwards the participants watched a sad clip from the film ‘The Champ’. Participants who said they usually struggled to handle negative emotion were more intensely affected by the sad clip, but crucially this was less so if they had completed the jog.

Research that looked at participants brain activity supports the idea of running’s ability to clear the mind, finding that running was associated with reduced activity at the front of the brain.

The article in the BPS also looked at ultra-marathon runners, who described their approach to running 100 miles as acceptance “there are going to be long periods where you feel awful”. Knowing that and accepting the fact, makes it much easier to cope when it happens – as it’s just what you were expecting. They also talked about knowing no matter how bad it gets, there will always be an upswing later. The more you run, the more you see this. This made me think about mental health more generally and how the same rules apply.

Interestingly lots of first time marathon runners have an age that ended in a 9. In other words, they took on the challenge when they were on the cusp of a new decade – a time when we’re particularly likely to reflect on the meaning in our lives. (I’m definitely thinking about it when the kids are a bit older and as a way to potentially make the most of turning 40.)

In my opinion you can’t beat exercise, whether it’s running or any another way to get your heart rate up. We’re born to move and there’s no doubt about the benefits. It relieves stress and negative emotions, as well as increasing self-esteem, energy levels and endorphins. Body image improves along with motivation, mental functioning, sleep, and morale.

If you’re not already, give it a go!

– Brainstorm all the different exercises you could do and pick your favourites (or the ones you’re most likely to do!)
– Make a plan to ensure you fit it into your week: be specific, decide on a day and time and think about involving a friend so you’re more likely to do it.
– Set yourself realistic targets that you can stick to.
– Aim to be active (or at least increase your heart-rate) at least three times in the next week.
– Remember you probably won’t feel like doing it at the time. Remind yourself how you’ll feel after you’ve done it (always better!) compared to how you’ll feel if you don’t do it (guilty, annoyed with yourself!). Try keeping an exercise diary so you can keep track of this and use it as a reminder.
– Try doing it with a friend to make it more fun and make yourself more accountable.
– Make sure you give yourself a well done whenever you manage it!


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