The physical health benefits of regular exercise are well known and widely promoted; children learn them in their P.E lessons, gyms promote them on their websites, and hospital waiting rooms plaster them on their walls.
Yet the stigma surrounding the often murky topic of mental health in this country means that the mental health benefits of exercise tend to be obscured. Despite the efforts of a number of charities such as HeadsTogether working to encourage open and frank discussions about mental health, the topic continues to be brushed under the carpet in Britain: a country where this year it is estimated that ¼ of the population will suffer from some kind of mental health issue.
Yet the evidence is undeniable. An ever-growing number of studies have proven that regular exercise can help to prevent or alleviate the symptoms of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Just this month a major study led by the Black Dog Institute found that those who do not exercise are almost twice as likely – 44 per cent – to suffer with depression, compared to those who were exercising one to two hours a week. And the mental health benefits of regular exercise listed in such studies are extensive, from improving sleep and increasing appetite, to encouraging social interaction and boosting self-esteem.
We welcome such studies here at TMR, but for us they simply confirm what we have always known: that running can make you not only physically stronger, but mentally stronger too.
We regularly hear from women within our community who tell us that running has been a lifeline to them, giving them the focus, motivation and headspace to pull through challenging times and cope with episodes of poor mental health.
Because in addition to delivering the mental health benefits that all regular exercise brings, running also gets you outside in the fresh air where us humans are supposed to be, making it uniquely suited to functioning as a kind of therapy.
For many in our community who have experienced loss, or indeed new life and the post-natal depression that can often follow, running has been the only thing that has lifted their spirits and got them to get up and leave the house.
So, in an attempt to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and to spread the word about the often overlooked but hugely important mental health benefits of running, we will be sharing some of these women’s stories tomorrow on World Mental Health Day. We will also be continuing this conversation throughout week by acknowledging International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, which takes place on the 15th of October every year. This is a day very close to our hearts here at TMR, and we will be using it to talk more specifically about how running can serve as an important coping mechanism following the loss of a child, and about what we mean at TMR when we talk about “mums”.
Because too many people battling with their mental health alone don’t realise that the first step towards recovery could quite literally be the first step they take on a run.