Thursday, September 1, 2016

Running for My Mental Health

As I've shared my running journey, I've talked a fair amount about the physical health benefits I notice when I run. I first started running as a way to enhance my weight loss - along with changing my diet.  It was a big part of how I was able to lose a fair amount of weight about seven years ago.

I've also noticed my baseline endurance has improved significantly since I started running. Of course, if I take a longer break than I should, I lose some of that endurance. However, once I start running again, I've never had to start completely back at zero.  (When I first started the Couch to 5k plan, running for two solid minutes was a real challenge.)

What I haven't talked about much is the noticeable benefits to my mental health that running has.  This is partially because I'm still not as comfortable talking about my depression as I would like to be.  I greatly admire people that can share their struggles and stories - they inspire and comfort me.  I want to be able to do that, and I know that talking about mental health helps reduce the stigma around it.  But I still struggle with sharing it out loud (or online, as the case may be.)

There is no shortage of research that shows being active helps improve mental health (I was going to Google a wack of articles to share here - but you all can do that yourselves - it's pretty much common knowledge.)  I can attest that I feel better mentally, as well as physically, when I'm running regularly.  For me, it's not only the physical activity, but it's getting outside with fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine.  I pretty much run outside exclusively, as I find treadmills tedious and uninspiring. I know they work for others, but just not my cup of tea.

One of the hardest things about my depression is when it starts to creep in, things like running (basically anything that not essential and requires any extra effort) are the first things to go by the wayside.  I can come up with a myriad of reasons not to put on my running shoes and head outside: I don't have time. I don't want to have to wash my hair. I'll do it in the morning. My running clothes are dirty. And the one that's been winning a lot this summer - It's just too hot!

The catch-22 is, I KNOW that running will improve my mood, but my low mood makes it harder to run.  It takes a lot more work to talk myself into it.  If I'm paying attention, I can take advantage of small bursts of energy or enthusiasm, and get my behind out the door before I can talk myself out of it!

The heat and humidity we've had in southwest Ontario this summer has been a significant challenge for me to stick with my training. I don't mind running in rain or snow, but give me temps in the 90's (40's) plus humidity? Ugh, I'm melting just thinking about it. One personal motto of mine has long been: you can always put more on, but you can only take so much off!

As a result, I haven't been running as much as I had planned this summer, and I've had an unusual slump in my mood as well.  (I most frequently struggle with my depression in the winter, when I'm not getting as much sun.) Today I felt a bit of an upswing - and I went for a run.  It didn't hurt that the weather felt almost fall-like. I am already feeling the positives effects of doing so. But much like bathing, the effects don't last unless you do it regularly.

So here's to hoping that the mild temps, motivation, and mood improvement are here to stay for awhile.  Goodness knows I need to to get ready for the next race - a 10k!