Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week, is an annual event which shines a much-needed spotlight on mental health. Although the event started in the UK, it has become one of the biggest awareness weeks globally. In Botswana, as in many other countries, there is a stigma that surrounds mental health but I’m so happy to see that more and more strides are being made to build awareness of mental health issues and the Botswana Network for Mental Health has definitely become more visible in recent years.
When I started running 5.5 years ago, my focus was purely on getting physically fit and healthy. And indeed, running has so many physical health benefits – strengthening muscles, improving cardiovascular fitness, building strong bones and helping to maintain a healthy weight, all of which I’ve experienced to a great extent. But it soon became quite clear to me that the benefits of running go far deeper. With every run, I started to feel significant mental health benefits. This being Mental Health Awareness week, I’d like to share them in today’s blog.
Five Ways Running Improves Your Mental Health
1/ It Helps You Manage Stress. Last week, I had a difficult work assignment which was stressing me out. I was quite anxious, that permanent knot in your stomach kind of anxious. I was tempted to skip my runs leading up to the big day, but I’ve been in the running game long enough to know that would be a mistake. My runs felt amazing and quickly helped to reduce my stress levels. This article notes that “running increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps moderate the brain’s response to stress, and in this way helps to control stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension”. And it’s not just for the short term, a recent review compared mental health among runners and non-runners and found that runners had greater psychological well-being. Findings also suggest a regular running regimen, especially during stressful periods, leads to greater resilience which is something I can attest to.
2/ You Are More Productive. When I run in the mornings, I find that my work days are more productive. I think faster, I act quicker, and in general, I just seem to be in top form. I remember when I was in Ghana – we had such an intense working schedule with long days but after each morning’s run, I felt ready for the day and was able to tackle challenges in such a creative way. This article notes that “a tough run increases levels of a brain-derived protein in the body, believed to help with decision-making, higher thinking and learning” and that workers who exercise regularly are more productive and energetic than those who don’t.
3/ You Feel More Balanced. I’ve always been quite a positive and upbeat person. So I wouldn’t say running has made me more so, but I do know it has given me more balance, and in that, I’ve found greater happiness. Before running, I tended to have quite a singular focus – I was very intense when I was studying or working, and when I became a mum, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do it right. But in the process, things became so overwhelming. Becoming a runner, gave me balance which in turn allowed me to enjoy the different elements of my life much more.
4/ You Are More Confident. Who would have thought that running would increase my confidence and self-esteem in other areas of my life? The more I run, the more empowered and capable I feel in different spheres of life. Each time I’ve embarked on a running challenge – be it 17 races in 2017, my first Half Marathon, or my first ultra-marathon, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone in non-running areas. And it’s not just me! Research shows that regular exercise can lead to improved perceptions of fitness and body image, which are linked to self-esteem.
5/ You Are Part Of A Community. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness. Loneliness has had a huge impact on the mental health of so many people around the world. Human connections are so important for our mental health and when this was taken away during the pandemic several people were affected, many suffering silently. What I love about being a runner is that even if we don’t run together physically, there is a real and genuine connection that exists and is strong enough to carry us through those particularly tough days.
The above photo is found at Molapo Crossing and was designed and painted in 2018 by three artists in Botswana, Rexx (left) Khwezi (middle) and Fifi (right) to raise awareness for mental health.
Running is so much more than just building physical strength. Running plays a critical role in maintaining and improving our mental health. I know I’m stronger and more resilient because I run. So even when I’m stressed or anxious, especially on those days, I make time to run.
How has running improved your mental health? What other benefits have you experienced from running?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.