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Will going for a run really help my mental health?

Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 2024 takes place between the 13th and 19th May. The theme is ‘Movement: Moving more for our mental health’ and focuses on how physical activity can have help to improve mental health.

Hi, my name is Ben. As Fundraising Manager at Grassroots Suicide Prevention, I speak to lots of motivated people taking on challenge events to raise money and help us save lives. We tend to focus on the inspiring stories behind each person, and how impressive it is that people can turn the darkest moments of their lives into something positive that helps others.

What we don’t often recognise is the impact of taking on challenge events like a hike, a run or a bike ride.

Any kind of exercise, training for a big event and making a change to your routine can have a huge positive impact on our mental health. Training with a big goal in mind can be very motivating for a lot of people, especially if the goal combines a physical challenge and fundraising one.

We know mental health issues are common in adults of working age (1) and there has been an increase in men and people under 25 taking their lives since 2018 and suicide rates are rising in women (2). It’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves mentally.

There has also been an increase in poor mental health since the pandemic (3), but post-Covid research found that just 30 minutes of exercise three or four times a week had the highest impact on alleviating anxiety and depression (4).

We do recognise that lots of mental health problems require more serious interventions, and exercise isn’t the cure for everything, but it can be a good place to start for many people.

Studies show that when you exercise more frequently, your self-esteem and confidence get a boost and tension, anxiety, mental fatigue and stress can all be reduced. Your mind becomes calmer because you are focusing on one thing, which is very helpful if you are going through difficult emotions like anger, frustration and sadness (5).

At Grassroots Suicide Prevention, we know that lots of people who fundraise with us have experienced a lot of these emotions, particularly related to suicide. People going through traumatic experiences are more at risk for mental health problems (6). Our fundraising is about focusing on helping others, and how our community can help themselves in the process. One fundraiser, who was once in a tough place, told us “It’s hard to feel pointless when you have a purpose and something to focus on, especially when it helps others.”

Our challenge events bring lots of people together, helping them incorporate physical exercise into their routines. We see total novices find a love for long distance runs, people with no hiking experience take on huge treks, and lots of people who were already confident in their sport find a whole new appreciation in being able to support a life-saving cause like ours.

We are so happy knowing that, when people choose to fundraise for us, the result isn’t just being able to help more people through funds raised. The result is also a positive impact on an individual’s mental health. We are helping people to take care of themselves through physical activity, creating a community of support, care and team spirit. 

No matter how big your goal is, you can start with a few steps. Once you get over the starting line, your confidence will increase, and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

We have challenge events catering to all abilities, take a look at the Events Calendar and see what inspires you. 

If you struggle to move your body during the day, why not try creating time for yourself to go for a walk, dance to your favourite song, or choose stairs instead of the escalator or lift?

If you use a wheelchair, see if there are local wheelchair sports clubs like basketball, cycling, cricket and canoeing. There are exercises designed to be done in office chairs, armchairs and even in bed, so there are options for everyone. 

No matter how big or small the activity, making time for physical movement can have a great impact on your mental health, Try something new today and see where it takes you. 

If you are struggling with anxiety, you can find more about treatment and care for anxiety disorders at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): 

If you are struggling with any mental health or other problem, you can call Samaritans on 116 123

Links and research:

Did you know 1 in 5 people will have suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives?

With your generosity, we can help people stay safe and provide the support they need in times of crisis