Ely Festive 5k 2019 and Why You Should Get Running For Your Mental Health
The other weekend my daughter and I once again took part in the Ely Festive 5k, which is organised to support the amazing work of the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity. Despite her protestations after last year’s event that she was never, ever (EVER!) going to take part in it again, Sunday morning at 9am found us both at the start line dressed up in our best Christmas gear (ok, so I had to bribe her to take part with chocolate but let’s pretend she really did want to take part with me!).
This was our fourth year in a row taking part together and one of my favourite things about it is all the pre-race stuff as my daughter and I walk to the start line, register, hang about and have some fun before my Santa beard goes on and the race starts. And despite spending the next forty or so minutes with me ‘encouraging’ her to put some effort in while she protested her legs are hurting (after about quarter of a mile), I’m always happy afterwards that we did it.
Now part of that is that I get to spend some great time with my daughter doing something constructive. But, as anyone who has read my blogs for a while knows, exercise and particularly running have for a long time been my ‘thing’. What started as something to get fit grew into 10ks, half marathons, marathons and an ultra before crashing back down to the sort of 10k level I’m at now (after a persistent injury that stopped me running for a couple of years). These days I’m a bit more balanced in my exercise and aim for two runs and four bootcamps a week.
Scientific evidence for the mental health benefits of exercise aside (and there is plenty of it covered below), I find that exercise is one of the most important aspects of what I do to feel good both mentally and physically. The evidence shows that exercise can also help with depression, anxiety and in many other ways for your mental health (and that being inactive can be bad news for both your mental health and physical health).
Here we are before this year’s Ely Festive 5k:
And a couple of years ago (where I was in the act of passing on my wisdom that you should always look at the camera and smile when you see a photographer):
And here we are running the Ely Festive 5k way back in 2016 (it was freezing that day):
Exercise and Depression
I’ve written before about the benefits of aerobic exercise for depression and mental health issues (have a read here: Depression: Does aerobic exercise have anti-depressant effects?)
In that article I talk about the 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis by Morres et al that examined the anti-depressant effects of aerobic exercise (versus non-exercise comparators) for depressed adults (18-65 years) recruited through mental health services with a referral or clinical diagnosis of depression.
They found that aerobic exercise “showed a significant large overall anti-depressant effect” on adult patients recruited via mental health services with a referral or a clinical diagnosis of major depression. Aerobic exercise “brought about a large or moderate to large improvement in depression in a wide range of delivery formats through equipment-based or equipment-free modalities, inside or outside a hospital, outdoors or indoors, in groups or individually, and in cohorts with outpatients or inpatients, and with different depressive symptom severity.”
And another meta-analysis (Stathopoulou et al. (2006)) looked at treatment outcomes from exercise for depression and some other mental health issues and found that anaerobic exercise may be equally effective in reducing depressive symptoms compared to aerobic activity, which suggests that resistance training may be an option for those where aerobic exercise is inappropriate or where they do not have the motivation for aerobic exercise. They also found from their analysis that there was evidence to suggest significant benefit from exercise to help with cravings from alcohol abuse, specific thoughts associated with bulimia and for anxiety-related symptoms.
As they conclude, “Our meta-analysis of 11 well-controlled studies yielded a large combined effect size…indicating that exercise can be a powerful intervention for clinical depression.”
Whereas the research above looked at people already diagnosed with depression, Harvey et al (Exercise and the prevention of depression: results of the HUNT Cohort Study (2017)) conducted an eleven year study of 33,908 adults who were selected on the basis of having no symptoms of common mental disorder or limiting physical health conditions. Results showed that regular exercise was associated with reduced incidence of future depression and that the majority of this protective effect occurred at low levels of exercise and was observed regardless of intensity.
Thus exercise appears to have a protective effect against future depression and to provide a large beneficial effect to those already suffering with depression.
Exercise and Anxiety
There is also research evidence that exercise can help with the treatment of anxiety. Regular exercise has been associated with lower anxiety and depression (De Moor et al. 2006), exercise has demonstrated a reduction in anxiety (Petruzzello et al, 1991) and exercise decreased overall anxiety sensitivity (Broman-Fulks et al. 2004).
In their systematic review of exercise for anxiety disorders, Jayakody, Gunadasa and Hosker (2014) found that “exercise shows a treatment effect beyond the placebo effect. Although it appears that the anti-anxiety effects of exercise are lesser than antidepressants for clinical anxiety disorders, it can still be beneficial as an adjunctive treatment”. Both aerobic and non-aerobic exercise seemed to reduce anxiety symptoms.
And Aylett, Small and Bower (Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice–a systematic review and meta-analysis (2018)) assessed the use of exercise in the treatment of anxiety and looked at the benefit of high intensity exercise versus low intensity exercise (I wrote about this here: Anxiety Disorders – Why you should get moving to treat anxiety)
They concluded that, ‘Exercise programmes are a viable treatment option for the treatment of anxiety. High intensity exercise regimens were found to be more effective than low intensity regimens‘.
Exercise again has a positive impact on mental health and can help with your anxiety and as part of your anxiety treatment.
Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
I’ve also written before about more mental health benefits from exercising (you can read it here: Exercise & Mental Health – Depression, Stress & Memory). Research suggests that running may protect our memory from the impact of stress, could help prevent depression and manage the symptoms of depression and exercise may keep our brains healthier for longer as we age.
For example, Miller et al (2018) suggested that running may protect your memory from the impact of stress. Exercise, particularly running, could protect the brain from the effects of chronic stress on the brain. As the researchers put it, “exercise is a viable method to protect learning and memory mechanisms from the negative cognitive impact of chronic intermittent stress on the brain.”
And in another encouraging piece of research, Firth et al (Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2018)) found that exercise may keep our brains healthier for longer as we age.
On the flip side, I’ve also discussed the research that shows that inactivity can have significant adverse impacts on your mental health (read that here: Is Sedentary Behaviour Affecting your physical and mental health?).
Sedentary behaviour refers to sitting or lying while expending low amounts of energy and if you spend 6-8 hours a day sitting around like this then it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and numerous other health conditions. The results of a study by Heron et al (2019) suggested that “11.6% of all-cause mortality was associated with sedentary behaviour. Therefore, 69,276 deaths might have been avoided in 2016 if sedentary behaviour was eliminated in the UK.”
All of which research demonstrates that exercise can have a significant and positive impact on your mental health in many ways, not just to help with depression and anxiety.
Why You Should Get Running
I come across a lot of runners in both my work and private life and I’m always fascinated to learn about the challenges that people set for themselves. There are those who are going from zero to 5k and who post on Facebook how excited they are when they achieve their goal, and there are those who are training and running much further distances such as marathons and ultra-marathons. Regardless of the distance and goal, there is a build up of positivity, confidence and excitement (and sometimes mixed with a nerves) and then the personal satisfaction that comes from achieving something that has taken effort and persistence.
Yet running provides way more benefits for your health than just increasing your fitness. Running is amongst the most popular types of physical activity with estimates of up to 3.7 million English adults taking part in running as a sport or activity. Earlier this year, the Royal College of General Practitioners partnered with the Parkrun people to promote the uptake of running and walking among general practitioners and their patients.
When I called in recently, I notices my own doctor’s surgery had a poster up promoting parkruns and, in this area of the UK, there are plenty to choose from with parkruns in Cambridge, Littleport and Brandon as well as a brand new one that launched in November 2019 in Soham (and there is some talk of a junior parkrun coming to Ely in the future).
Before the Ely Festive Run this year, I recorded this short video about the benefits of running (while my daughter provided her customary background entertainment!):
Research published in November 2019 (Pedisic et al. Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis) found that running participation is associated with 27%, 30% and 23% reduced risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, respectively. Even the smallest amount of running has significant benefits, even just once a week or 50 minutes a week.
“Running participation is associated with a significantly lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, compared with no running. Any amount of running, even just once a week, is better than no running, while higher doses of running may not necessarily be associated with greater mortality benefits. Increased rates of participation in running, regardless of its dose, would probably lead to substantial improvements in population health and longevity” (Pedisic et al (2019)).
Just getting out and running, regardless of how often or for how long, can reduce your risk of death. Even just running once a week has benefits over no running at all.
And whilst that shows the physical benefits of running, another review looked at the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and the incidence of common mental health disorders. Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) refers to the capacity of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to muscles, and other bodily tissues, during exertion. Running is an excellent way of boosting your CRF.
Kandola et al (2019. The association between cardiorespiratory fitness and the incidence of common mental health disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis) found that, “low and medium CRF levels are associated with a greater risk of common mental health disorders than high CRF.”
Low physical activity is associated with a greater incidence of common mental health issues so that increasing your cardiorespiratory fitness, through an activity like running, decreases the associated risk of new onset mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Still thinking you’d prefer that lie in to getting up and going out for a run?!!
As well as the benefits of exercise for anxiety, depression and mental health, this recent review suggests that improving your fitness can reduce the chances of you struggling with a mental health issue in the future. And on top of that, just one run a week can support being physically healthier and you living longer.
With so much scientific evidence supporting exercise, including running, it really does make sense for your mental health to get moving. With running you can find some excellent training programs online, you could make use of the couch to 5k programme, or you could join your local running club and benefit from their support, knowledge and encouragement.
And just maybe my daughter and I will see you in your Santa hat at the start line of the 2020 Ely Festive 5k – see you there!
To your success
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Aylett, E., Small, N. and Bower, P., 2018. Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice–a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC health services research, 18(1), p.559.
Broman-Fulks, J.J., Berman, M.E., Rabian, B.A. and Webster, M.J., 2004. Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity. Behaviour research and therapy, 42(2), pp.125-136.
De Moor, M.H.M., Beem, A.L., Stubbe, J.H., Boomsma, D.I. and De Geus, E.J.C., 2006. Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: a population-based study. Preventive medicine, 42(4), pp.273-279.
Firth, J., Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Schuch, F., Lagopoulos, J., Rosenbaum, S. and Ward, P.B., 2018. Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroimage, 166, pp.230-238.
Harvey, S.B., Øverland, S., Hatch, S.L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A. and Hotopf, M., 2017. Exercise and the prevention of depression: results of the HUNT Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(1), pp.28-36.
Heron L, O’Neill C, McAneney H, et al. Direct healthcare costs of sedentary behaviour in the UK. J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 25 March 2019. doi: 10.1136/jech-2018-211758.
Jayakody, K., Gunadasa, S. and Hosker, C., 2014. Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review. Br J Sports Med, 48(3), pp.187-196.
Kandola, A., Ashdown-Franks, G., Stubbs, B., Osborn, D.P.J. and Hayes, J.F., 2019. The association between cardiorespiratory fitness and the incidence of common mental health disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders.
Miller, R.M., Marriott, D., Trotter, J., Hammond, T., Lyman, D., Call, T., Walker, B., Christensen, N., Haynie, D., Badura, Z. and Homan, M., 2018. Running exercise mitigates the negative consequences of chronic stress on dorsal hippocampal long-term potentiation in male mice. Neurobiology of learning and memory, 149, pp.28-38.
Morres, Ioannis D., Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis, Afroditi Stathi, Nikos Comoutos, Chantal Arpin‐Cribbie, Charalampos Krommidas, and Yannis Theodorakis. “Aerobic exercise for adult patients with major depressive disorder in mental health services: A systematic review and meta‐analysis.” Depression and anxiety 36, no. 1 (2019): 39-53.
Pedisic Z, Shrestha N, Kovalchik S, et al. 2019. Is running associated with a lower risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and is the more the better? A systematic review and meta-analysis.Br J Sports Med Epub. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-100493.
Petruzzello, S.J., Landers, D.M., Hatfield, B.D., Kubitz, K.A. and Salazar, W., 1991. A meta-analysis on the anxiety-reducing effects of acute and chronic exercise. Sports medicine, 11(3), pp.143-182.
Stathopoulou, Georgia, Mark B. Powers, Angela C. Berry, Jasper AJ Smits, and Michael W. Otto. “Exercise interventions for mental health: a quantitative and qualitative review.” Clinical psychology: Science and practice 13, no. 2 (2006): 179-193.