Mental Health and Sports: The Benefits

I started running because I had to; I continue running because I want to.

My biggest regret in life is that I wished two years of my life away. In 2013, I started sixth form and my mental health was at its lowest ever. I barely had the desire to get out of bed everyday. I comfort ate because I was miserable but I ended up being more miserable because I comfort ate. I put on two and a half stone within a short space of time. The doctors thought I had high blood pressure. I had to change something and fast.

Yet, I had never succeeded at losing weight or maintaining exercise. I always looked for quick fixes. Cleanses, counting calories, joining a gym or running on a treadmill. None of it worked. This time I needed something sustainable. I turned to clean eating and running.

Running was never something I thought I could do. I got out of breath after 30 seconds and my legs would simply give up. Yet, I found a couch to 5k programme and I was determined to succeed. That’s when I realised the capabilities of sport and exercise. Life was still awful in many senses. I ate my lunch in the sixth form centre toilets, I did all my homework at school so when I was at home I could pretend that it didn’t exist and I skipped a fair amount of school. But there was a glimmer of hope.

It took me a few weeks/months to see the benefits and I’m not just talking about the weight loss. I started to see things more positively. Life could be better. And although I was still wishing those two years away I began believing in myself. When before I didn’t think I could go to university I applied to do a photography degree when I hadn’t even studied it at A level. When before I didn’t think my body would be able to run after 9 weeks I was running half an hour 3 times a week.

Some of my good mood can be associated with a better diet and lifestyle but a lot of it is to do with running. As much as diet is linked with mental health so is sports. Those runs showed me that life is worth living. That my body does not have the limitations I thought it had. I smacked down the boundaries that were surrounding me (apologies for how cheesy that sounds). Doing something you didn’t think you’d ever achieve is a huge positivity boost. It’s indescribable really.

Nowadays, 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems every year in the UK. I honestly believe if we tried to improve our lifestyles this statistic could improve. Sports have so many benefits for mental health. Not only are the endorphins mood boosters but there’s the social aspect and the fact that ultimately being healthy ends up making us feel happier.

However, at its roots, society needs to change. We shouldn’t be striving towards ‘looking good’ but we should be striving towards being healthy – physically and mentally. Quick fixes aren’t the way forward – you end up playing into the hands of huge money making corporations. Don’t join weight watchers, slimming world or do a cleanse. Don’t believe everything you read about health – do some research. If someone is asking you to pay money for something, be sceptical. Every person is different and needs different things. I run. Some people would hate to run so choose something different.

Sport is beneficial for our mental health but don’t make yourself do something you don’t want to. Find something you enjoy and stick to it.

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