5 ways to wellbeing - Being Active

As this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is 'Movement: Moving more for our mental health' we asked Mental Health Champion Claire Gallagher talk about being active, another one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing.  

When the New Economic Foundation came up with the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, they described Being Active as:

"Go for a walk or run.
Step outside.
Play a game.
Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness."

It is well documented that regular movement can help improve our sense of wellbeing and self-efficacy, lower rates of depression and anxiety, improving our ability to feel like we can cope with lives stressors, and protects against cognitive decline.  The research base is still developing as to how and why physical activity can improve our mental health and wellbeing; however what we do know is that physical activity and improved mental health are linked in a positive way.

How to improve mental health in Running Clubs and Groups

group of four xc runners

As Mental Health Champions in running clubs, we might think this is easy; let’s get out and run, and we will feel better!  But what if being active becomes difficult due to an injury and illness, long working hours, or childcare? We can:

  • Ensure we are still supporting our runners to engage in our regular club runs by offering a shorter slower walking group could be one way to make sure we are including all our runners equally, and ensuring the individual still feels connected to the group.  
  • Promote and celebrate any volunteering opportunities you have i.e. volunteering at your local parkrun with your child, spectating and cheering at a local race/running event; the runners will feel like they have given back to the running community with their time and presence, and they have been active in the process.  

I’m reminded of other 5 Ways to Wellbeing here such as Learn, Connect and Give.

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDS)

What if we notice that some of our runners are overdoing it and activity for them is actually worsening their mental health?  Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDS), a condition caused by low energy availability (for example if a runner is restricting their calorie intake or training whilst fasting, which can be caused very easily by most popular 'diets') can have detrimental health consequences such as sleep and appetite disturbance, poor concentration and memory, low mood and increased anxiety, frequent injuries and more serious complications such as female athletes losing their menstrual cycle, delayed puberty for our younger runners, rapid weight loss, lower bone density and inability to recover from injuries.  

What Mental Health Champions can encourage

As Mental Health Champions, we could

  • make sure that the running club promotes a healthy attitude to fuelling adequately before our and after our runs,
  • make sure we challenge any language that negatively links food and exercise like having cake after a run because we have ''earned it', or running off all those Easter Eggs / mince pies,
  • provide supportive and evidence based resources for runners to read about the dangers of running with low energy availability.
RunTogether group stretch and recovery

How active?

Activity doesn’t have to be strenuous or of a high intensity to help improve our mental health and wellbeing.  Slower paced activities like walking and gently swimming can have huge benefits.  Even simply standing up from our desks at work can improve our wellbeing! So encouraging our runners to engage in movement that their activity and mobility levels, and personal circumstances, will allow is going a long way to promote Being Active.