Running and Mental health

Running and Mental Health: how it helps me

When I was an angst-riddled teenager, my mother used to tell me to go outside and kick a football or to go for a run. She saw it as the perfect non-pharmacological solution to anxiety and frustration. That said, I am the son of a chemist so we knew from a young age that some people required more help than that.

Despite having three children after the age of 39 in the 1970’s, my mother was light on her feet. Our childhood is full of memories of us being chased out of ‘good’ rooms by my mother. In fact she used to say that when she couldn’t run after us she was getting old. And slowly as the years went by, after some gynaecological problems and two heart attacks, she stopped running after us and she slowed down. In the end, walking my mother up a hospital corridor, with her arm clutching onto me for support was harrowing. She died quietly in her sleep with my brother and sister present after having her last walk.

My dad was a workaholic all his life and retired on a wave of business success. Overweight but healthy and never having missed a day’s work, he decided to start exercising and going to the gym to run on treadmill. After only 2 years of his retirement when he couldn’t seem to manage all the hobbies he wanted to pursue, he was standing at the garden gate chatting to neighbours when he had a massive stroke. 5 years later, he is limited to a wheelchair, is paralysed down one side and has no real knowledge of who we are.

So I run.

When I run, it reminds me of what I have – health, movement, choices. Without fail, every time I run, I hear my mother say ‘If I can’t run, I’m getting old’. So I keep running. Leaving the house in the rain can be tedious, but I have never regretted a run. After the initial toxic 10 minutes of adjustment, I can feel some relaxing chemicals spill into my body. Sometimes I think about problems, more usually, I have a blank mind – something I am unable to do normally in the course of the day with a heavy caseload of patients and a business to run. My mother’s death 2 years ago made me run a marathon – I just needed the space to process it all. Sitting, alcohol or talking didn’t help. Running however, gave me a sense of freedom that nothing else has given me and when I think of my parents, it reminds me that at the end of the day, our health, both physical and mental, is not to be taken for granted. For me, running is about turning down the volume on the kitchen radio that is droning on in the background and you have that moment of perfect silence.

Thanks for listening.

Got to run.

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