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Running for Positive Mental Health

I am lucky that I am one of those people who enjoys running.  As a keen club runner for over twenty years, I have travelled all over the North of England taking part in competitions. The social part of running with team mates is something I have particularly enjoyed.

I have also been very aware that running has on my overall wellbeing and since I started to work at Community Links, in November 2016, its effect on my mental health. When I run with friends you get that feeling of strength and unity, a common purpose but also to chat, offload and put the world to rights. When I run on my own I routinely use that as an opportunity to sort my head out, this is not a conscious action but I often realise that I am gesturing as I make a point in a one sided conversation!

At the open day for our subsidiary organisation Bridging the Gap, it was highlighted how a positive self-identity is often a key component to a good mental health and it struck me how often I would describe myself as a runner when I first meet people. Which is interesting because I’m also a husband, father and an accountant!  Running has enriched my life giving me a sense of purpose as I train for events, setting targets and goals both on a day-to-day and long term basis. I am quite competitive trying to improve times and beat contemporaries in the local running scene particularly the other old boys in my age group.

The direct relationship between physical activity and mental health has become more and more apparent and I really enjoyed the recent Mind Over Marathon programmes which followed 10 people with a range of mental health issues as they trained for the London Marathon.  They were supported by Prince William and Harry through their Heads Together charity.

The new Mental Health Ambassador programme was launched in 2016 by England Athletics and recruited 128 people from 91 affiliated athletics clubs across the country, to do a bit of running and talking. This volunteer programme links to #runandtalk, a campaign to improve mental health through running in England.

NHS choices website has exercise alongside cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling as a proven effective alternative to antidepressants. From a behavioral perspective, the same antidepressant-like effects associated with “runner’s high” found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. A study showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

As we move towards the end of 2017 I can reflect on a positive one for my running, if ignore a slight injury I currently have, and I look forward to some new challenges in 2018.  For me in particular that includes moving to a new veteran age group category (over 55) so some new old boys for me to race against!

Martin Horbury,  Director of Finance and Business Support