It seems, either intentionally or unintentionally that I have been running for pretty much my whole life (and I don’t mean metaphorically, I mean literally).
In my young teens I ran because we had to (think enforced cross country and athletics). In my late teens and early 20s I ran because I was at uni and felt that I should burn off some of the beer consumption. In my middle to late 20s I ran to counter the effects of sitting at a desk all day and also to keep in shape. It also helped during a difficult period of uncertainty. This was the first time I also ran more competitively, completing the London Marathon and several half marathons. I kept running into my early thirties even jogging around London when I was 6 months pregnant with my first baby. Again mainly to stay fit and slim.
Now in my middle(ish – some might say late….) thirties I have run more competitively than ever. I have completed half marathons and in the last few years focused on 10ks. Getting older has not meant slowing down. At times I have felt stronger and quicker than ever because of smarter training and a better diet. But now I don’t run to stay slim or to break times (ok not quite true, I still have a 10k time to beat…). More importantly now, running has become my headspace. A chance to get outside, a full intake of fresh air, a chance to think, listen to some upbeat music and time on my own. I don’t answer to anyone except myself when I’m running.
When I haven’t run for a while I get a bit cranky, I can get down and feel overwhelmed. But it’s like the run helps to declutter the mind and bring some calm back. I have some of my best thoughts while running. Here comes the science part. Science has shown time and time again that exercise is good for your mind and brain, not just for your body. I’m not just talking about runners high from the release of endorphins. Exercise (specifically cardio not for example weight lifting) changes the brain in ways that protect the memory and thinking skills through boosting the size of the hippocampus. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
There are loads of apps (Strava, Nike+, MapMyRun, Couchto5k) and social media communities to help start you running or keep you running. Plus I recommend Eat and Run by Scott Jurek and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for uplifting and inspiring stories about running. Lots of my friends are members of running groups, but personally I prefer to run solo. No matter how cold or wet it is, and yes, I still sometimes dread it, I always feel better after a run. And also a little bit smug.