Running & walking for mental health

Posted on May 30, 2021, by

Mental health is plain and simple – it’s how we think, feel, and act. By that definition, we all have mental health! When we are mentally healthy, we have the ability to feel, express, and manage emotions – both pleasant and challenging. We can support good mental health by caring for ourselves consistently.

But what does that look like? This Mental Health Awareness Month we look at how running and walking can contribute to your mental health.

Consistent care

Caring for ourselves consistently means meeting our basic needs.

  • Aim for a balanced diet.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Get sufficient sleep.
  • Reduce, eliminate or moderate the chemicals (alcohol, tobacco, or other substances) that we consume.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Be mindful.

Being mindful allows us to tune in to the present moment, listen to our bodies, and figure out what we might need at this time. If we take a moment to be mindful, we might realize that we feel thirsty or maybe we feel restless and need to take a moment to stand and stretch our legs. Figuring out what we need allows us to satisfy that need, and then come back to our work refreshed and more productive.

Preparing for the curve balls of life

If we take care of ourselves daily, we are better equipped to cope in a healthy way when life throws us curveballs. There will always be daily stressors, tragedies, or personal crises that we face; challenges are inevitable. If we are consistently working on treating our bodies and minds well, we build up a resilience to these negative experiences. When we are resilient, we become stronger, wiser, and better able to manage every challenge we face. We become equipped with new tools, support systems, and habits that we can utilize to get through future struggles. All these things that make up good mental health are skills that we can learn and practice to help us be the best possible version of ourselves.

Self-care if the key

The skill of self-care is crucial to maintaining positive mental health. Self-care is the daily activities we do to care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Examples include fueling your body properly, resting your body sufficiently, making time for exercise, setting healthy boundaries, connecting in a meaningful way with others, being mindful of our internal states, among others. Self-care is a skill that, like any other skill, gets easier and more natural the more you practice it.

Research shows that good mental health is built from a combination of physical activity, good nutrition, connection to others, and a sense of purpose and meaning.

The discipline of running and walking helps

Training for a race requires more focus on all activities that benefit your mental health – proper nutrition and hydration, adequate sleep and rest – all are important to a successful training routine. But beyond the physical benefits of running and walking, both can connect you to others or provide time for mindful meditation.

Get help at the YMCA

At the Y, through our Mission of Strengthening Community, we address many if not all of these mental health-supporting activities every day. This means that the Y is Medicine! To learn more about how the Y could be medicine for you or someone you know, connect with us on our website or stop by in person at any of our Fox Cities locations.

About the author: Maggie Pawloski is the Wellness Coordinator at the YMCA of the Fox Cities. She earned a BS in Health Promotion & Wellness from UW-Stevens Point with a minor in Strength and Conditioning. She has a Personal Training Certification (NETA) and Youth Fitness Certification. Maggie has also coached varsity basketball and tennis. She enjoys working with clients striving for various goals including general fitness, athletic performance, and strength and balance. Contact Maggie at [email protected].

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