How can running and talking help my mental health?


October 04, 2018

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As England Athletics launches its second #RunAndTalk campaign of the year to coincide with World Mental Health Day on October 10th, our trainer for Tower Hamlets, Laura Williams, looks at how both these activities may help you at a time you most need them - but feel least able to do them.

Why does talking help with mental health?

Talking can benefit your mental health in a variety of different ways, from leaving you feeling less alone and isolated, to helping you figure out strategies for coping with the day-to-day, as well as helping you get a better understanding of what’s going on. Whether you’re experiencing a bit of free-floating anxiety or engulfed in a difficult episode of depression, opening up, however small those initial steps may be, can act a little like releasing steam from a pressure cooker.

one of the hardest things to do"

It can be one of the hardest things to do when you’re feeling bad, and not able to figure out what you’re feeling, but cultivating a bit of blind faith and making a leap to reach out and trust someone, may put you on the road to a speedier recovery.

Why does running help with mental health?

Running (and exercise in general) can help with mental health in a variety of different ways. The big physiological one is of course the powerful neurotransmitters that are released, that will help boost levels of positivity and optimism; help to give you clarity and even a greater sense of control. You’re also having to engage with your body, and the activity itself will help to distract you - particularly helpful if the contents of your head is stuck on a negative loop.

squirrels stash conkers"

And if you’re exercising and running outside, green spaces are known to provide a boost to our mental state. Running while watching: squirrels stash conkers, leaves turn from green to brown, and clouds pass in a variety of different shades may help lift you even when you’re at your lowest.


How to approach mental health issues at a Group Run

Everyone at my running group always assumes I'm fine as I'm cheerful. How could I even begin to approach the subject of how I’m really feeling?

You don’t need to go from nought-to-sixty here. Of course the prospect of relaying sensitive and personal information to others, even if they have your best interests at heart, can seem daunting. But you can start small. The next time someone asks you how you are, you can start by saying something like, “So-so”, which may lead to a bigger conversation – or not. It can be a good way to test the water. And you can of course use non-medical vocabulary!

start small"

You don’t need to rock up and announce to your Monday night crowd you’re struggling with depression – you can say you’re going through a bit of a hard time; life’s ‘rocky’, or even that you feel a bit fragile. Not only may this put you on the radar of an individual or a group of individuals that could help you, you’re also opening up, which can help to ease the intensity and isolation you may be feeling.

The trouble with talking is that when I most need to open up to someone, is also the time when I feel least able to.

This is all about pushing yourself, no matter how impossible it feels. Of course, it’s prudent to wait until you feel you’re in safe and trusted company, but many mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and those associated such as OCD, often thrive on secrecy and keeping you feeling alone, isolated and stuck with negative and/or obsessive thoughts. Gauge when and who feels right by all means, but be careful of talking yourself out of every opportunity to interact.


Supposing I can't run a mile without getting out of breath?

Most running groups cater to all levels of fitness, and welcome the new runner. Don’t forget everyone had to start somewhere. Many groups will run at a variety of paces, and offer back- markers/tail runners so you’ll never be left on your own. And experienced runners often want or need to run at much easier paces – injury, illness and fatigued limbs mean even the most seasoned runner needs to take it easy on a pretty regular basis. And if you want to build up to running a mile on your own, just increase your distance consistently.

We don’t come out of the womb ready for endurance running"

Try running for 1 minute, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat this for 15 minutes, Then try for 90 seconds running next time, and slowly build up to 20 minutes, 30 minute and so on. We don’t come out of the womb ready for endurance running! It has to be worked at, and can be a helpful activity to get your teeth stuck into when life may feel like it’s giving you lemons.

If I can't run, will walking help?

Absolutely. Walking will help heaps. Firstly, the boost in circulation will help to clear a fuzzy and seriously distracted head. You’ll have plenty to focus on visually, and you’ll probably find the repetitive movement of putting one foot in front of the other, literally and metaphorically, strangely empowering and reassuring.

making your bed can feel like climbing Everest"

And the very act of getting dressed, lacing up trainers, getting yourself out of the house and onto the tarmac will give you a lift in confidence and boost self-esteem. On the most difficult of days, opening the curtains and making your bed can feel like climbing Everest. But it’s that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other stuff that often contributes to making you feel more human, more connected, and maybe a bit more hopeful.

Written by Laura Williams, Tower Hamlets GoodGym Trainer.

-For more information or advice see this NHS guidance
-For sessions for new runners see GoodGym starter sessions.

Have your own GoodGym story to share with the community? Email and we'll be in touch.
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