Want to improve your mental well-being? Then the answer could be as simple as pulling on your trainers and getting out for a run.
It was widely reported last year that exercise and keeping active could slash the risk of depression by up to one-third.
The reports in various national newspapers were based on pooled research from 49 different studies carried out around the world. It was found that people who did the most physical activity were less likely to suffer depression than those who did the least.
People who did 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week had a 31% lower risk of depression than those who did not.
The findings support previous studies that have concluded that people with mild depression may benefit from exercise. There is evidence indicating a link between physical activity and good mental well-being – defined as feeling good about yourself and the world around you.
Exercise is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain which can help to positively change our mood. Some scientists have suggested being active improves well-being by bringing about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control and the ability to rise to a challenge.
Dr Jackie Hargreaves is a senior lecturer in sport and exercise at Leeds Beckett University and her research interests include investigating physical activity in people with mental health problems.
She said: “There’s a whole variety of reasons why exercise such as running should help improve people’s mental health. Just getting out there can be really beneficial.
“One of the big factors is that sense of achievement that you have done something for you and your body. It can make you feel better about yourself. The run may have been tough at times but afterwards you feel on a high at having accomplished something.
“While research is ongoing, there is evidence coming through about how exercise can help us think more productively. Studies indicate that we problem solve better after exercise. In the case of stress relief, exercise can take you away from your thoughts or, alternatively, it can help you work through those thoughts. It works differently for different people.”
And if you are keen to build more physical activity into your weekly routine, running is a fantastic way to do it.
It’s easy to get started, it’s free, you can do it just about anywhere, you’ll burn calories and there’s no need for lots of expensive equipment, although it is worth investing in a decent pair of running shoes.
Running is a great way to make new friends, whether you opt to join a club or a more informal running group. Running with other people is an opportunity to share positive experiences and build a sense of belonging and self-worth.
Through its #RunAndTalk programme, England Athletics aims to improve people’s mental health through running. The programme is supported by the mental health charity, Mind, and includes a Mental Health Champions and Ambassadors scheme under which a network of volunteers in England Athletics’ affiliated clubs and Run Together groups promotes wellbeing through running.
Twice a year during a one-week period linked to Time To Talk Day (January/February) and World Mental Health Day (October), England Athletics’ digital campaign #RunAndTalk encourages people to run one mile or further and chat to family, friends or colleagues while doing so.
For more information about the programme go to www.england athletics.org.
If you are new to running, it’s a good idea to gradually build up your distance and pace – trying to do too much too soon could lead to injury. And if you are looking for motivation to keep you running, think about entering an event. It will give you something to aim at and you’ll enjoy a fantastic sense of achievement when you cross the finish line – a great way to boost your mental wellbeing.