1001 Reasons Running Improves Mental Health

5:54 AM

The benefits of running go beyond physical health. 
Many athletes have found that running improves mental health and 
rely on exercise to improve their mood.

kirsten doyle vproud exercise improves my mood

The Scientific Connection Between 

Exercise And Mental Health

The connection between exercise and mental health is a strong one. Science speaks to endorphins, athletes speak to mood swings. There's an amazing conversation on VProud about how running improves mental health. Mother-runner Kirsten Doyle reflects on the video in an extremely personal essay about her journey back to running which started during a very bleak time in her life. Her story is so inspiring and while, no, it doesn't lead to 1,000 benefits of running, you'll see in her words and heart exactly why it feels this way to Kirsten. Read her words and see if you see yourself in her story and if you're moved to run from reading it.

—The VProud Team

running improves mental health

How One Letter And A 

Pair Of Old Shoes Saved My Life

By Kirsten Doyle For VProud

I received the email during a particularly bleak period in my life.

It was April 2009. My five-year-old son had a one-year-old autism diagnosis, and I was still suffering from crippling post-partum depression three years after giving birth to my younger son. Economic necessity had pushed me back into the workforce, giving me less time with my kids. My husband and I were having difficulties, and I felt this permanent exhaustion that had seeped into my bones and had become a part of me.

On top of everything else, I was desperately ashamed of how I looked. I weighed more than I had during either of my pregnancies. I couldn’t bring myself to wear my maternity clothes, and I couldn’t stand the humiliation of trying on clothing at a store and having to ask the assistant for a larger size. I made several unsuccessful attempts at exercise and hid myself in shapeless, baggy clothing.

Then the email arrived. It wasn’t even addressed to me personally–I only received it because I happened to be on a mailing list–but it changed my life profoundly.

According to the email, the Geneva Centre for Autism–a wonderful autism services organization in the heart of Toronto–was entering a team in the Charity Challenge of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon, half-marathon and 5K. Did I want to join the team, get some exercise and raise funds for a good cause all at the same time?

The world went still as I sat there reading the email. I could do this. I had been a runner in a previous phase of my life, and knowing that I was doing it for my son could turn out to be best motivation of all. Feeling a sense of purpose that had been absent from my life for over two years, I clicked the link in the email and filled in the online race registration for the 5K event. Just before I clicked “Submit”, the recklessly insane part of my brain made me scroll up the form to the event selection. Barely able to believe what I was doing, I changed my selection from 5K to half-marathon. I scooted back to the bottom of the page and clicked “Submit” before I could change my mind.

And just like that, I was a runner again. The very next day, I laced up my old running shoes, which I had located during a frantic scrabble in my closet, and I went for a 5K run. I use the term “run” in its loosest possible sense: for every two minutes of running, I did three minutes of walking. The progress was slow and ugly, but I pushed on. That day, and for the rest of that summer, I pushed on. When things got tough, I told myself that if my son could live with the challenges of autism every single day, I could get through one run.

Six months after I received the email, I stood at the finish line of the half-marathon with a finisher’s medal around my neck and tears of emotion streaming down my face. I had dropped sixty pounds, become fit enough to run a half-marathon, and raised a bunch of money for kids with autism.

Somewhere along the line, I had also discovered the ability to cope with the stresses of life. I noticed that when I ran, I could find my way out of the darkness that engulfed my mind, and I was less prone to the anxiety that sometimes paralyzed me. When I ran, I was more grounded, more settled and had more clarity of thought.

Quite simply, when I ran, I was better at being me.

Six years later, I am training for my eleventh half-marathon. I still run to raise funds for kids with autism, but that is no longer my sole motivation. Running has become an essential form of therapy for me. It gives me the time and space to think, it releases the knots of anxiety, it makes my good days more plentiful and it makes my bad days easier to bear.
Above all else, running makes me feel alive. When I hear my feet rhythmically hit the pavement and feel the muscles of my body working in harmony, I feel strong and vibrant, and filled with possibility and hope.

kirsten doyle for vproud benefits of running
About the author: Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa and has lived in Toronto since 2000. After a successful career in computer programming and I.T. project management, she decided to follow her passion into a career as a freelance writer. She and her husband have two sons, one of whom has autism. In 2009, after years of being a dedicated couch potato, Kirsten signed up to run a half-marathon to raise funds for autism services. She has been a running nut ever since, and continues to run for autism every year. She can be found at KirstenDoyle.com or at her blog, Running For Autism. You can follow Kirsten's honest conversations on VProud.

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