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Run and talk: Tackling mental health through exercise

Run Wild, the University of Manchester’s running society, are hosting a ‘Run and Talk’ event in conjunction with England Athletics. The event aims to get people out exercising and connecting with each other, in order to highlight the benefits of exercise for mental health. 

I asked Tom Lewis, President of Run Wild, about his thoughts on the link between running and mental health, and how the society aims to promote it.

“It makes running a lot easier, being next to someone or running in a group. I find for myself it’s easier to do more distance and run quicker. It’s a great way to relax and de-stress, talk to someone. That’s the whole point of run and talk – to get people to talk and raise awareness for good mental health.

Run and Talk

According to Tom, Run and Talk are focussing on men’s mental health this year: “One of the key things [England Athletics] are trying to push this year is to get someone who’s a man involved in the campaign.”

England Athletics‘ week long “Run and Talk” campaign is runs from the 23-29 September, and as Tom says, “research shows that men are less likely to report this or discuss issues because they don’t want to show weakness”, it’s a perfect way for new members to start opening up about their feelings.

Running to relieve stress

Tom shared his personal experiences with using running as a way to manage stress. He started running during his A-levels after set of bad mock results left him feeling overworked and overloaded. The pressure to pass exams in order to get into uni was feeding his negative mood. He said he got into running as a break, but found the benefits of a run to be wider than anticipated: “I wanted to improve my physical fitness but it actually helped a lot with my mental health as well. I find now if I don’t go out and clear my mind it will actually leave me a lot worse.”

When commenting on the experiences of other members of the group, he said that he and other leaders have seen significant changes in the members’ moods as they attend. The society also receive referrals from the UoM counselling service, for students to try exercise as a way of combatting mental health issues.

Benefits of running for students

There are multiple ways that running as a form of communal exercise is beneficial for students. Tom added that a lot of people run with the society as it makes them feel safe, especially as day light hours shorten significantly over the winter months: “A lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable running alone in the dark and feel safer when they run in a group. We have people designated to make sure that no one is left behind.”

On the topic of Freshers’ Week, Tom remarked on how overwhelming a city as large as Manchester can be to new-comers, but running is a great tool to break down that fear with new friends: “We change route each week so it’s a really good way to learn the city. We take people over to the Etihad, we take people over to Old Trafford, all round the city centre, all round the parks. “

Tom also discussed the benefits that running can have for students around exam time. A common problem amongst overstressed students is the feeling of having no time to prioritise exercise.  Tom has found that actually taking break, even though you feel like you can’t, can leave you more clear-minded and more able to tackle a sky-high pile of work: “I’ve seen a lot of people who come in stressed or lonely. People start the session off quite tense but after an hour they feel a lot better and able to cope.”

Join Run Wild

Run Wild’s ‘Run and Talk’ run will be held on Tuesday 24th September, at 18:15, meeting outside the Students’ Union.  There is a push to get men involved and they are encouraging runners to bring a man in their life. Their sessions are held weekly on Tuesdays at 18:15, and there is also a group who run the Platt Fields’ Parkrun on Saturday mornings.

If you want to speak to someone about mental health issues, UoM’s counselling service is on the 5th Floor of Crawford House. You can access their website to find out how to use the service. The SU also has an Advice Service, which is confidential.

Tags: Exercise, group, men, Mental Health, running

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