Why I Run For My Mental Health (And Not For Weight Loss)

Why I Run For My Mental Health (And Not For Weight Loss)

I’ve never been that sporty. I like being outdoors, and I have a very active family, but I’m one of the laziest members of my household, for sure. I’m not a competitive person, I was never on any sports teams at school, and I have never set foot in a gym. And for these reasons, I thought I would absolutely fucking hate running.

Running can be quite tedious. Put one foot in front of the other, again and again. Sometimes, when I’m red-faced, heavily breathing, and praying I can’t feel a stitch coming on, I ask myself why I’m doing this by choice. But actually, despite the love-hate relationship, I look forward to running. I love the simplicity of it. I like the fact that I can just get up and go anywhere. That’s all there is to it.

I wouldn’t say I consider myself a runner – not in the way some people do. I don’t do marathons. I don’t track my time or distance. I don’t have a Fitbit, or even a phone, most of the time. Often, I’ll come back from a run completely unaware of how long it took me or how far I went. As much as this is important to some people, and they work really hard towards goals, this side of the sport has never appealed to me. I run with a middle finger at six-minute-miles and interval training. I just run to clear my mind.

The thing is, our current society is fitness mad. Every other Instagram account seems to be spewing out gym selfies. We’re all counting our daily steps and swapping carb-heavy meals for courgetti. These aren’t inherently harmful things to do, of course. As long as you’re doing it safely – and for you – fitness lifestyles can be the best things to happen to people. But on the other side, it’s also important to realise that this isn’t true for everyone. Exercise can make you or it really can break you.

Plenty of people exercise with their body image in mind. They want to lose weight. They want to tone up their bums and look more like the cover model of Women’s Health. And wanting to look good isn’t an awful thing to admit – of course we can all relate to that. But there are people who have used this goal to create an obsessive, toxic relationship with over-exercising. Too many people do sit-up after sit-up not because they enjoy it, but because it’s become some mechanical punishment for their inadequate body (and let’s be honest, their body was great to begin with anyway).

There’s a lot more to exercise than the things it does for you, aesthetically. That’s why I stick to the mental side of things. I run for self-care. That might sound a little contradictory, but for me, it works. My relationship with running does not reflect everyone’s, but in my experience, running has been a good thing.

If I’ve had a long, busy day, sometimes I can’t seem to process my thoughts. Doing a simple task, like making a cup of tea, suddenly seems buried under all my thoughts and worries and all the things I’ve still got to do and it all becomes way too overwhelming. So I go for a run.

Some people get up and run to start off their day. Then, they feel awake and prepared for whatever their schedule is going to throw at them. I understand that, but personally I prefer running in the evenings, as a method of winding down and forgetting about the stresses of that day. You don’t have to think about anything – just the pacing of your feet and the sound of your breathing. Even after some wet, hilly, twice-the-distance-I-expected routes, I always finish feeling glad I did it.

We all need something that allows us to relax. In our crowded, demanding lives, the things that let you shut off from the world aren’t just a form of escapism – they’re a source of self-care. Just because you’ve got essays to write and emails to reply to and meetings to arrange, that doesn’t mean stress relievers are a waste of time. You are not being unproductive if you’re committing time to your head. Go for a walk. Have a bubble bath. Paint your nails. And don’t you dare feel bad about it.