Running for Mental Health

October 10th is World Mental Health Day.  MIND, the mental health charity, recognise that the LGBT population is more likely to suffer mental health issues than the wider population.  Exercise is recognised by the UK’s NHS as positive for mental health and a significant contributor to positive metal well-being. The NHS Choices webpage states “exercise helps boost levels of chemicals called serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which can lift your mood. Exercising on a regular basis can boost self-esteem and confidence, which can help to relieve symptoms of depression.” With this in mind, we asked one of our members to give their own reflection on how running has helped with his own mood control.

“Hi, I’m Andrew – a 40-something gay guy who was once very overweight and struggled with depression. 

I started running many years ago with the primary intention of losing weight. I ran alone due to being self conscious of my weight but also I didn’t have the confidence to run with others as I didn’t feel I was good enough. Although I could see the physical improvements from running such as weight loss, improved speed and I could actually run reasonably far but I wasn’t aware of the hidden improvements with my mood and mental health. 

Jump a few years and a break from running, I pushed myself to join Newcastle Frontrunners. I did this because I wanted to get back into running but also because I was lonely. For years my schedule was to go to work and then come home; I made very little effort in going out or reaching out to others and I knew this had to change. 

I threw myself into running and attended almost every session possible during my first year with NFR. I found the social aspect of running extremely positive and I don’t think I truly appreciated this until I was injured and couldn’t run. 

I had a couple of short breaks due to injury and although the first time was only a couple of weeks, it felt like months.  It wasn’t until the second time I was out of action for around 9 weeks I noticed my mood was slipping and I was beginning to spiral downwards. During this time I focused my attention on maintaining contact with the club and supporting them in other ways. I also  tried to do the odd run here and there. Even though this did not have the same impact on my mood as running with others and being competitive, it helped pull me through. 

I’m back to running now but with a different focus. I’m more focused on the doing and supporting others rather than trying to increased my speed. 

NFR have become my family and I am glad I can continue to support them whether I am running or not.”

Running will not magically solve all of life’s problems, but it certainly can help.  There is some evidence that experiencing (i.e. participation in an activity), and belonging (having something to belong to, and identify with) are great for promoting a sense of wellbeing. So having a club that encourages runners of all abilities to participate in whatever way they can – and that meets regularly – helps people feel a part of something.  The added benefit of lots of support from other members and trained coaches alike is one possible way of promoting good mental and physical health. Once running has become something we do, many of us find that after a stressful day at work, or when struck down by anxiety, just getting our trainers on and going out for a short run can help.  It’s a good thing to keep in mind – not just today but every day.