Joni Southall from See York Run York tells us about how being active has benefited her mental health

On World Mental Health day, Joni Southall from See York Run York tells us about how being active has benefited her mental health.

“I personally believe that running and sporting activity has a positive effect on your mental well-being. I work within the running community but also understand on a personal level the benefits running has to your mental health. Life can be stressful. It is an ongoing battle to juggle work and family life. Throw in to the mix the recent financial hardships experienced by so many and you have the perfect recipe for mental health struggles, including anxiety and depression.

Anyone can run or walk. You don’t have to have expensive gym memberships. You can simply put on a pair of trainers and head out of the door. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, simply getting out the door has immediate benefits. It takes you away from the stresses linked to social media, the negative stories in the news and gives you time to escape even if it is just for 30 minutes.

Be it a walk in the park or a run around a local playing field, I immediately feel calmer once I lace up and step outside. It gives me time to think without the pressures of day to day stresses, escape from electronics and provides me with all important ‘me time’.

Running can also help combat loneliness within our communities. Our lifestyles have changed somewhat and there is more reliance upon online shopping and remote working. Social interactions within communities have therefore reduced significantly. There are many free, social running and walking groups for people of all abilities which allow like minded people to meet up and chat and create new friendships. These can be a lifeline for those struggling alone with mental health issues. Parkrun is a great example – it is a free, weekly event, which is all inclusive and welcomes runners and walkers alike. It is a social and friendly community and there is no pressure to be fast. Many routes are also suitable to those with mobility needs, such as our local events at York and Heslington.

So what are you waiting for? There are so many wonderful places to explore in York on foot and it gives your mental health a boost in the process.

I was lucky to have been granted funding from City of York Council to attend several mental health awareness courses. There is such a stigma surrounding mental health and it is important to talk about these issues within our running community.

It is commonly known that exercise has a positive impact upon our mental health.

We launched a Walk and Talk group over the winter months as a way of keeping runners connected during a time when people find it harder to get out and run. The purpose of the group was to provide a space for runners to feel safe during dark evenings and still enjoy exercise and gave them an opportunity to chat with like minded people.

We make all of our running events fully inclusive and a safe and welcoming environment for all. We aim to provide a positive experience to help build a runner’s self esteem and confidence and to encourage them to continue their running journey.

At our events, we do not only celebrate the achievements of the fastest runners, we celebrate the achievements of all runners, no matter how fast or how far they can run. We provide PB badges for those who have run their own fastest personal best or furthest ever distance. We believe that all running accomplishments should be celebrated. Running is not only about winning.

We also have lapped events with a fixed time rather than a fixed distance. We have found this is a great way to build a runner’s confidence. They are social events and the runners support each other. After several laps, all the runners are mixed up so there is no winner and no one at the back, feeling like they are coming last. We feel that putting a fixed timescale on a 10km race would create a lot of stress and pressure to those who are either slower or may have some underlying illness. It is very important to me to avoid any runners feeling such anxieties. I feel very strongly that running should be a fun, positive activity and open to all.”

Click here to read Dee Cooper, Community Health Champion’s story.

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