I really should be more careful. Last post, I fell into the trap negative thinking, mourning a superb runner I no longer am. And while, yes, self-deprecation is all the rage today, a closet door now hides my sneakers and sunny days do something regrettable to my psyche. I’m flirting with what Distinguished Professor of Psychology Patrick Corrigan calls the “Why Try Effect.”
Generally associated with the stigma surrounding mental illness, “‘Why Try’ is a variant of modified labeling theory,” Corrigan writes, “that […] also suggests avoidance as a behavioral consequence of devaluation. When people perceive devaluation, they may avoid situations where public disrespect is anticipated.” As a result, self-esteem starts to evaporate and the path to achievement fades from view. Why try, after all, if shame and rejection lie just around the corner?
And that thinking begins with public perception. When myths spread about individuals facing mental illness--that they are dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted, for example--awareness of those myths can lead to agreement by the most vulnerable among us, which they then apply to the self, causing further harm. Think of it as a chain of increasingly hefty links that ends in leg irons.
Point of fact, a recent study reveals that 46% of respondents said they would be embarrassed to seek help from a psychiatrist, 38% would be embarrassed to see a psychologist, and 34% would be embarrassed to talk to a counselor. So damaging is stigma’s influence that researchers argue it is “a central driver of morbidity and mortality at a population level”.
In light of such frightful statistics, my comparing first run blues with something as destructive as self-stigma is sorely insufficient. There are no myths swirling about me in sphere of public opinion, I neither perceived nor suffered any public disrespect, and I certainly will run again in the future. More than anything, the analogy was an attempt at what Lee, Slater, and Tchernev refer to as “lowering [my] status,” thereby reducing “resistance to a message that may be perceived as threatening.”
Sure, the adjective “threatening” does seem a touch serious, though the authors’ intention is simple enough: relatability through humor. It can go spectacularly wrong, however. Take, for example, Slate.com’s You’re Doing It Wrong, a column whose content is as useful as it is self-righteous. The sheer length of nose over which each sentence peers down at me stirs a fight-or-flight response deep in my chest. I have enough self-doubt, thank you very much. I don’t need more from a blog involving cranberry sauce.
And yet, the very notion of negativism is at the heart of where I’m going with all this. Whether internal or external, by blog or nightly broadcast, it can influence the fabric of our everyday. At best, it’s a Pinterest parlor trick. At worst, it forms an impenetrable barrier separating those in need from the life-saving treatments they deserve. Consequently, the life expectancy of individuals experiencing mental illness is 20-25 years less than individuals who do not.
Thankfully, there is a serious adjective for that fact, too: unacceptable.
It is why we run.
It’s why we inaugurated the Mental Health 5K in 2010, and it’s why will be running again May 25th: to empower individuals to achieve recovery and promote personal and community wellness through an accessible, comprehensive, integrated and evidence-based system of mental health care.
That I limped my son and me around the neighborhood a few weeks back is merely preparation.
 Self-Stigma (as defined by disabilityrightsca.org): By internalizing negative beliefs, individuals or groups may experience feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness, or despair that keep them from seeking social support, employment, or treatment for their mental health conditions.
 Barney, L., Griffiths, K., Jorm, A. &, Christensen, H. (2006). Stigma about Depression and Its Impact on Help-Seeking Intentions. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 51-54.
 Hatzenbuehler, M., Phelan, J. & Link, B. (2013). Stigma as a Fundamental Cause of Population Health Inequalities. Amercian Journal of Public Health, 103, 813-821
 Colton, C. & Manderscheid, R. (2006). Congruences in Increased Mortality Rates, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Causes of Death among Public Mental Health Clients in Eight States. Preventing Chronice Disease: Public Health Research Practice and Policy 3, 1-14.
Grammatically speaking, it’s “It is I, your long-lost pal.” Subjective/verb (intransitive linking)/predicate nominative/appositive. Though the first run of the season can make a person feel like an object: me. Better yet: meh…
February heatwaves have a stoking effect on ego, however, so out I went, Nikes laced, shorts short, cracker-munching son strapped to jogging stroller. I may or may not have offered him protective glasses for wind shear, such was my confidence. Approximately thirty-seven strides later found me doubled over, hand on post. Any excuse to stop the pain. Are my son’s hands cold? They must be cold, I better fix that. Now they’re too warm. I’ll just pull off to the side here until they cool down.
Not twenty minute in, I shuffled homeward, drenched, dizzy, defeated. Great, I thought, I’ve buried the fitter me for this, a wheezing, semi-conscious thirty-something to whom his son offers one last sympathy sip of whole milk. I suppose I’m lamenting the collision between the idealized and the actual. I’m not a runner anymore. Four months ago, yes. Now, no way. And the road back there seems 7,000 miles of knee-grindy, lower back-knotty Dantean inferno. Forget Nikes. Find bright red Netflix icon instead; Stranger Things Season 2 should be here any minute.
Where the heck went my willpower?
Research tells us it still exists. Crept over and leafy with ground ivy but there. Lethargy has merely waylaid its assertiveness. Not to worry says the American Psychological Association (APA), willpower is comparable to muscle, and “while muscles become exhausted by exercise in the short term, they are strengthened by regular exercise in the long term. Similarly, regularly exerting self-control may improve willpower strength.” All I need do, then, is persist.
Were it not for that sinking feeling, I’d relish the simplicity. PERSIST, all caps! Ex nihilo nihil fit!
In reality “to persist” sounds inconceivable, like that Grammy I’ve been meaning to win or those five teensy inches until I can dunk. Preposterous. Unthinkable. Futile.
Not so fast says APA. There may be a solution: a little something psychologists refer to as an “implementation intention.” They are valuable tactics often in “the form of ‘if-then’ statements that help people plan for situations that are likely to foil their resolve.” Next jog, for example, I may tell myself, “If I get too tired to continue, then I’ll walk 30 paces after which I’ll start running.” Or even, “If I get a cramp, then I’ll continue for 10 seconds before I stop, stretch, and begin again.” Research suggests that by enunciating implementation intentions ahead of time self-control improves and willpower strengthens.
To be candid, I have yet to test the advice, though I am framing a few implementation intentions as we speak. If on that slow, motivation-killing curve I feel like turning back, then I’m going to sing the 1975 hit song “Why Can’t We Be Friends” twice through. And if the trouble spot in my lower lumbar starts acting up, then I’m going to take my son out of the jogger and do good mornings with him until I get three squeals of delight. That should do it.
Sure, this method may seem less than scientific, but it is hard to quantify as human a thing as persistence. For some to persist means to face down adversity. For others it’s akin to acceptance, embracing circumstance and enduring. For others yet, persistence looks something like distraction, tricking the self in ever expanding increments. And what better way to do that than in earshot of a snickering child. Joy has a funny way of making the intolerable seem almost amusing.
It just dawned on me that I’ve been writing the same blog entry since late April. Well, not the same same. There are superficial differences. The first describes running as a meditative act. Then it’s on to shoes, whether or not chic, techno-color Nikes are worth the sticker shock. The when and how of injury is next, and finally comes food, the tempestuous relationship between umami and American culture.
Thematically though, they’re all much ado about that buzzword mindfulness, a fashionable term the New York Times skewers as meaningless. It is true when nuanced language becomes corporate speak something elemental evaporates. Then again, is self-awareness in mass really so bad?
Permit me 5,000 characters (with spaces) and the allegory of running to make my case—no, it’s not.
When training for a marathon, the body becomes an epicenter of painstaking regiment. Runner’s World pegs measured runs as key, “no more than six during the season to avoid overtraining and fatigue.” As is nutrition, specifically 300 to 350 grams of carbs per day. So too is normalizing outdoor conditions, and clothing, of course, shoes, nutrient timing, hydration. The list is long and meticulous. In my research, I’ve discovered cleaver ways to “bombproof” my quads alongside tips to roll out calf cramps. I’ve learned two kiwis contain as much potassium as a banana, important stuff if your legs approximate old sailing rope.
In the pursuit of ever increasing distances at decreasing split times, preparation is the Holy Grail. In fact, the same could be said of most aspects of life, except college midterms, which everyone knows are best taken under the guise of nonchalance. And preparation can’t help but conjure Rocky-esque training montages, actor Sylvester Stallone goose-stepping railroad ties, chasing pesky chickens, hot-footing up the stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
What we don’t see, however, is him sitting quietly, legs a folded lotus, or maybe not, maybe they dangle from a park bench while he ponders the intrinsic value the bolo punch.
Is that contemplative mumbo-jumbo really necessary?
Uniformly sports psychologists answer yes. In an interview with Medill Reports, University of Tennessee professor and former president of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology Craig Wrisberg says, “The skills, the techniques, the mental demands …, it’s all about the participant and how they manage their focus and composure under pressure.” And never have competitive events so consumed the American public, whether they’re attended, broadcast live on television, radio, or streaming, or analyzed 24/7 on myriad sports networks like ESPN, ALN, MLB Network, NBA TV, NBCSN, Fox Sports, ONE World Sports, the Golf Channel, and the World Fishing Network, to name a few.
The field of sports psychology dates back to the 1920s, but not until the 1984 Summer Olympics did it gain prominence when nations began hiring dedicated psychologist to help athletes navigate the rigors of world competition. Today, a quick google search reveals over 40 nationwide programs offering advanced degrees in Sports Psychology, a “hot” industry according to the American Psychological Association that nets practitioners between 60,000 to $100,000+ annually to help competitors do what running great Alberto Salazar calls number nine of the 10 Golden Running Rules: “Tackle Doubt Head-on.”
For the casual runner, anything over a mile or two may be doubt inducing, list or no list. Even more so coming from Salazar, a man whose running prowess drove him to the brink of death on multiple occasions. Of the New York City Marathon, Salazar states, “The pain of running is like the pain of drowning. A kind of weariness sets in and you lose the will to fight. What I could do is simply push myself through that exhaustion.”
Great. Next time I lace up my sneakers I’ll imagine going for a quick drowning around the neighborhood.
Joking aside, Salazar’s comments illuminate the true power of humankind: our adaptability. We can, should we choose, immerse ourselves in nearly any circumstance and find a way to persist—such is the strength of our will. In addition, studies show that willpower is best described as a behavioral muscle, meaning it can be trained, toned, and refined over time to reflect exact preferences. Think of it as the very point of the spearhead that is attached to the spear of self-control.
The trick to sharping that point lay in short bursts of restraint. How, for example, do I take the next twenty strides when what I really want is to be wheeled off to the nearest waterpark? Perhaps pick micro-goals, the stop sign just ahead and then that weeping willow around the bend. Or maybe sing Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" start to finish letting your mind roam beyond each meniscal cartilage scrunching step. These are coping strategies that require us to identify our situation, consider what worked in the past and understand what may work now, and choose corrective measures.
Circumspection is invaluable to remediation, but nowhere has it been more impactful than in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder via Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which:
Combines the basic strategies of behavior therapy with eastern mindfulness practices, residing within an overarching dialectical worldview that emphasizes the synthesis of opposites … Change strategies in DBT include behavioral analysis of maladaptive behaviors and problem-solving techniques, including skills training, contingency management (i.e., reinforcers, punishment), cognitive modification, and exposure-based strategies
So successful has DBT been that there are now multiple adaptions for various outpatient settings, from substance misuse to eating disorders for adults and adolescent alike. In fact, the stories associated with DBT are nothing short of astonishing.
Thankfully, The Mental Health Center has made DBT, DBT Lite, and DBT informed treatments a priority. Consequential, 18 (soon to be 19) MHCGM clinicians provide hundreds of clients per month with this particular mindful, life-changing treatment, more than any CMHC in New Hampshire. This increase, however, brings up a few related rhetorical questions: in what reality is the expanded accessibility to such a treatment considered a bad thing, corporate speak or not?
By contrast, what about running? Do those who prize running do so because it’s widely inaccessible?
No. The art of running is that all you have to do is lace up and let go. Similarly, it’s hard to argue exclusivity is what makes Dialectical Behavioral Therapy valuable. In fact, the opposite is true. The more people who practice mindfulness techniques, the better off we all are.
I do realize I am comparing incomparable things, i.e., committing weak analogy. It’s just the way I make sense of the world, by seeing a little of this in a little of that and a little of that in a little of this. Sometimes the interconnectedness is hard to miss.
 Dimeff, L., & Linehan, M.M. (2001). Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in a Nutshell. The California Psychologist, 34, 10-13
Truth be told, I am one of those adherents forever swept up by the latest food craze. Especially where exercise is concerned. A single jog has me scouring supermarket shelves for goji berries, crunching away on chalky chia seeds, guzzling electrolyte-ed neon drinks by the drum. Heck, I’d harpoon wild salmon if I thought it’d help. Not that I know the first thing about spearfishing, or salmon for that matter. I’ve read it’s good for you, something about the high-quality protein and omega-3s, as are chia seeds, loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and calcium. And so I feign delight as little black flecks decorate my teeth.
Though in the dash for nutritionally perfect Kamut Dark Chocolate Energy Bars, it feels as if something more than just ambrosia goes missing—Kale/Flax Seed smoothies are not delicious no matter what any magazine says. And that void seems related to the phrase “good for you,” specifically the word good, which can’t help but imply its opposite: bad. The problem is these terms suggest moral preferences that act as integers in a crude health arithmetic. According to fitness blogger, Kale/Flax Seed smoothie (y) is good and if I (x) consume said concoction, I too am good. Thus:
x + y = GOOD
Logic dictates the following must be at least trueish:
x – y = less GOOD
By comparison, the glistening, brown sugar rubbed ribs (z) that I (x) devoured on Memorial Day can only be considered not good, i.e., bad:
x + z = BAD
Hence I am bad.
Even now the heap of bones I managed to amass on my plate causes me a level of shame I’m not ready to confront. No, I’d rather avoid it altogether and instead place my focus on things I know will bring me joy, like the crumble-top apple pie that whispers my name when I open the refrigerator. Avoidance is not ideal, but it sure is effective.
In fact, avoidance is the perfect coping mechanism for what many health experts refer to as the U.S.’s obesity epidemic, for without it the statistics may threaten our tranquility: two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese; obesity is linked to more than 60 chronic diseases; each year obesity related health costs us approximately $200 billion, nearly 21% of all medical costs nationwide, $2,741 higher per capita than “normal” weight individuals. Further, we now consume 31% more calories than we did 40 years ago, yet despite these truths, obesity numbers are forecast to continue climbing.
It is ironic, however, that while we appear to have perfected the art of avoidance, weight the concept continues to be a national obsession. We read about it in our books, we watch for signs of it in our beloved celebrities, the U.S. weight loss industry itself is valued around $60 billion, nearly $600 billion worldwide, a market specially designed to help us achieve something we tacitly know we must. But lo! crumble-top apple pie, why do you taunt me so?
In the battle between willpower and thinly sliced, sweetly spiced green apples, there can only be one victor.
If only it were that easy.
As heralded food writer and Food Inc. contributor Michael Pollan points out, the food of today is vastly different than that of yesteryear: “The [food industry] blames obesity on a crisis of personal responsibility, but when you’re engineering foods, you’re pressing our evolutionary buttons. The fact is we are hardwired to go for three tastes: salt, fat, and sugar.” And when that addictive mix joins a culture of celebratory eating (see Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, the religious holidays, sports broadcasts, birthdays, weddings, and even funerals), no wonder we find ourselves a few pounds north of doctor’s recommendation. It’s difficult to view food as fuel when what we’re eating accompanies every human emotion.
In spite of nefarious influences, I hesitate to place blame solely on such a nebulous group as the “food industry.” To be fair it is possible to change the body amid towering piles of salt, fat, and sugar. A person can exercise; were that not true, the gift that is Richard Simmons may never have sprinkled us with dance moves. Also, we do choose the foods we eat hence Jenny Craig. My gosh, I’m starting to sound like a food industry representative.
The trouble, I suppose, has to do with all the blaming. If I blame myself, I experience shame, and then follows avoidance, and we know where that ends, me head over heels in a flaky baked dessert. On the other hand, if I blame the industry, I surrender my agency; I am a mere marionette animated by a salty sweet ratio.
To this conundrum, MHCGM Community Support Service Director and bariatric surgery support group instructor Pete Costa may have an answer: “we must harness the power of mindfulness.”
In the six week Lifestyle Changes course he teaches, Costa stresses the importance of seeing weight management in the broader context of health management. Gone is avoidance inducing judgmental language, like good and bad, and in its stead Costa directs attention to the interplay between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The thinking according to Costa: “You can’t change what you don’t notice.”
Paramount to successful health management, and by extension weight, is to first identify our food related behaviors, and then thoughtfully, supportively pull back the veil on what lies beneath. Any number of emotions may contribute to over indulgence: grief, depression, joy. As is true of our thoughts; cognitive distortions have a funny way of undercutting actual progress, black-and-white thinking, for example, or mind reading, or catastrophizing even the slightest deviation to a crevasse the size of the Grand Canyon. And as we come to know our tendencies, there are plenty of ways to outwit those thoughts: by identifying the distortion, examining the evidence, defining terms, thinking in shades of grey, etc.
In the end, it’s about gaining control. Though the verb “gaining” may not go far enough. “Taking” control, “wresting,” putting it back where it belongs, within each and every one of us. We need not be little wooden puppets on taut sweet and salty strings. With mindfulness, food can become fuel again.
In fact, that goji berry version of me jerked down the organics aisle is not so different, tugged along on a tether of someone else’s construction. Why am I propelled so? Because some blogger proselytized in Times New Roman? Anyway, I grew up in Midwest—what the heck is a goji berry?
I suppose the lesson here is know thyself. And if you don’t, dare to make introductions. You might be surprised by whom you meet.
No matter the transport—by bike or Buick, aboard a train, boat, or (perish the thought) airplane—the sound of mechanical failure is unmistakable. In my twenties, it came to me as PTWEEEENG! followed by a throaty warble rattling the hood of my lipstick red Saturn SC Coupe. I’d thrown a rod, whatever that means, which portended my lurching around in the vehicular version of a dazed Janis Joplin.
An intelligent person would’ve stopped driving, but that I am not, so I growled up and down the back roads for the better part of a week. Of course the car had other ideas.
On foot, too, something similar can happen, though that distinct sound is usually uttered in four letter increments. Injury—running’s evil twin. A pulled hamstring, foot fracture, ankle sprain, shin splints, sore knees are all common, as well as the hard to pronounce ones, like iliotibial band syndrome, colloquially referred to as ITBS.
And while “No pain, no gain” may be an age old battle cry for the über-motivated, there are times when exercising through injury is not only counterproductive but also dangerous. Runner’s World UK author Patrick Milroy reminds us that we must “learn to recognize [our] own body’s signs of pain,” for pain tolerance is as individual as the cause of such pain. Foot numbness, for example, could be either a too-tight shoe or a stress fracture, both of which require a drastically different response.
Not all aches are bad, however. Lactic acid is likely to blame for those lumbering legs, and low grade inflammation can make rusty hinges of knee joints. In these cases, light exercise may help restore some mobility. When approaching what could be, might be, sure seems like injury, Milroy suggests an acronym: RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). And “if the pain hasn’t disappeared the next day, don’t try to run on it.” A doctor’s opinion may be necessary.
For most minor injuries, RICE is simple, practical advice. In fact, the mnemonic device is one of many under the umbrella of first aid. ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) and HEAD (History, Examination, Action, Documentation) stripe my memory like an ‘80s era public service announcement--The More You Know! But behind the goofy acronyms and stately abbreviations are enumerated procedures that, however recollected, invoke step-by-step protocols that could save a life. Take ABC, for example: when treating an unresponsive individual, we must check (1) his or her airway for obstruction, followed by (2) the lungs for breathing, and finally (3) the carotid artery for circulation, i.e., a pulse. Jumbled, the mandates make little sense. Why perform external chest compressions if there is no respiration to oxygenate the blood? Why administer mouth-to-mouth if the individual’s airway is occluded?
ABC, HEAD, RICE, and myriad others, well-attend physical trauma, though what if that shrill engine sound comes from not the body but rather the enigmatic, oft-misunderstood reaches of our mind? Surely similar protocols do exist.
Thanks to the National Council for Behavioral Health, the answer is an emphatic YES: Mental Health First Aid.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a nationwide 8-hour education program that in ten short years boasts more than 1 million trainees. Topics of the intensive course include identifying “common risk factors and warning sign of specific types of illnesses, like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.” MHFA participants are taught to engage a five-step action plan, cleverly named ALGEE, when attempting to support someone with signs of mental illness or emotional distress:
A quick visit to MHFA’s website lays bare the ‘why’ behind this sweeping program: “Because we can all be more aware and more informed. Because there is a suicide every 12.8 minutes. Because sometimes people don’t know how to ask for help.” Three insightful, albeit eye-opening statements, though for me the last one arouses the most empathy. It brings to mind the heart wrenching story of a Golden Gate Bridge “Jumper” whose suicide note read, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.”
To think, even the briefest human kindness could’ve saved his life.
With that story come others, anecdotal, however, less doleful. They are from my own upbringing. Me, a toe-headed toddler reaching for a floating ball and nearly drowning. Adolescent now and lost in the woods, determined to find my way home. Just out of high school, rattling a fire engine red Saturn SC Coupe to pieces because I didn’t know who or how to ask for help. To this day I’d rather peruse a grocery store for hours than inquire where the filo dough is. And if layered pastry has me swallowing my pride, consider what it must be like when mental illness is involved. Not to mention the accompanying stigma—my goodness! A barricade beyond imagination.
Of course, being part of any solution can mean many things. With regard to mental illness, it means learning to recognize the signs. It means taking what steps we can, carefully, thoughtfully. Oftentimes it means asking for help in order to help.
Whatever the circumstance, whether it’s ABC, RICE, or ALGEE, a silly mnemonic device could make the difference. Think of it as that single smile we all wish we could have bestowed.
Much has been written about Mexico’s Tarahumara, or “Running People,” all of whom can jog some 250 miles in a single clip, purportedly without shoes. I can’t help but wonder what might happen were a wayward tribesman to stumble upon a Foot Locker and its piebald shoe wall like an exploded Skittles factory. This pair orange, with two-layer rigidity. This one radium red, a midsole saddle and improved flexibility. Another’s canary-colored toe-box is ballooned for the wide of foot. Some are airy as fishnet, others more high-tech moonboots than trainers.
The sheer volume bewilders even the savviest among us. Still, zeitgeist demands we reevaluate our footwear before taking a single step, though like everything in life there may be a gulf between what is and what is assumed. Put simply, popular misconceptions might be leading us astray.
Considering whether or not to buy shoes is, of course, rooted in logic. Likely the soles of our old ones show signs of wear, are uneven or worse: flopping like fish with each stride. The cushioning could be compressed, the laces grim and aglet-less. And if they look so, how can the vulcanized rubber grip as intended, the dual-density foam polymers pad underfoot, the rear stabilizers, well, stabilize?
And that is to say nothing of the knee, “the most complicated and largest joint in our body,” a gliding sandwich of Latin derivatives held together the body’s rubber bands. As Nike co-founder Philip H. Knight recently put it on Marketplace, “An ounce in a pair of shoes is worth 10,000 pounds in the last ten yards of a mile.”
So what better way to convince ourselves we must log miles than buying a flashy new pair. An implicit contract is then forged reminiscent of Field of Dreams—Iowa corn farmer/baseball superfan (Kevin Costner) hears a smoky voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, if you buy them, you will run.
It’s not hyperbole to say we are in the golden era of running technology. The convergence of state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques and our obsession with competitive athletics has led to some impressive gains: gel pockets, progress arch support, extraterrestrial outsoles not unlike the Mars rover; a couple hundred bucks can get you microprocessor monitored cushioning to match every stride!
While recent improvements approach apoplectic, the modern running shoe has humble beginnings. Prior to 1974, running meant either strapping on whatever clodhoppers lurked in your closet or going au naturel, letting the spring wind squirrel through your toes. In 1974, however, Nike released a lightweight, well cushioned Waffle Trainer, giving rise to something of an arms (or foots) race. Now, this many years later, the athletic footwear market is forecast to soon reach 84.4 billion dollars.
Yet despite predicted industry value, market share, projected gross dividends, there exists an incredible irony: those dastardly Tarahumara and their shoeless 250 miles per, in some cases 400+. So what gives?
As recorded by Christopher McDougall in Born to Run and corroborated by various researchers worldwide: the human body, that’s what!
For shoe manufactures like Philip H. Knight, the modern running shoe is an attempt to fool the foot, and by extension human physiology, that it is not hammering away at a hard surface and therefore should be quite content. It’s a crusade for constant motion. Nevertheless, film analysis shows that when a shoeless leg swings forward, the knee angle obtuse, the human forefoot reaches for a firm place to plant, and in doing so the arch loads like a spring, dampening vibration otherwise shuttled toward the knee. As a result, barefoot runners pick their way along, wary of terrain, all the while strengthening the muscles of the foot. Suffice it to say, we really were born to run.
On the contrary, the modern running shoe with its cumulus cushioning encourages what is known as “heel strike”—that heel first, and then forward rocking motion—which some speculate causes the Tibia and Fibula to approximate a tuning fork. Further, studies indicate that the oft-advertised fortress-like support can weaken foot musculature increasing incidence of injury. To make matters worse, evidence suggests that those exorbitant, micro-considerate sneakers are no better at preventing foot trauma than their cheapie counterparts.
What, then, is one to do? Pitch every last sneaker overboard for bare feet?
No. The answer is simpler than that: just get out there. Start slow. Increase as necessary. Buy if you must. But for goodness’ sake, listen to your body. It’s the only one you have.
Please note that the science surrounding shoe technology, heel strike as opposed to forefoot, is still hotly debated. Perhaps it’s best to regard all this the way we do (or should) any preconceived notions: just because they’re swirling around, doesn’t make them true.
Take the stigma surrounding mental health, for example. Public perception tells us mental illness is rare, that those affected act erratically; they are violent and engage in criminal behavior. Statistics, however, reveal a startling counter narrative. In the United States, 1 in 4 adults experience mental illness in any given year, and sources confirm that there are no predictable patterns linking criminal conduct and mental illness, violent or otherwise. In fact, the sad reality is that people with mental illness are four times more likely to endure physical, sexual, or domestic violence than those without disabilities.
The data involving self-harm is just as alarming. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for adults nationwide and the 2nd leading cause for ages 10 to 24. For New Hampshire youth ages 10 to 24, suicide is the LEADING cause of death. And while the military represents only 1% of the U.S. population, veterans account for 22% of suicides nationally.
Such is the chasm between what is and what is assumed.
In the end, I suppose the best thing one can do is pay attention. Take each day, each person we meet, each decision we make with eyes wide open and refuse to let the winds of popular thought sweep us off. Running shoes, after all, can be a metaphor for so, so many things.
 American Psychological Association. (2014). Mental Illness Not Usually Linked to Crime, Research Finds.
 Phend, Crystal. (2012). Mentally Ill Often Targets of Violence. Medpage Today
 National Alliance of Mental Illness. (2013). Mental Illness FACTS AND NUMBERS.
Asking a dedicated runner about the joys of jogging is a bit like inviting a vacuum cleaner salesman to eulogize motorized brush bar floor suction. Sure, it sounds appealing, if not indispensable, but there comes a point where the words they’re using might as well be Old English: anaerobic threshold, chip time, under-pronation (read: ymbset, Earfoþhwíl, hieldan).
Of course it is true that studies repeatedly extol the physical benefits of regimented exercise—better bone density, stronger, more efficient muscle fibers, a jump start for metabolism, to name a few. But on the heels of winter that drumbeat of footfall against pavement can seem more fairytale than non-fiction. After all, November to May is when mind and body are at best roommates, one of which has neglected to pay rent for some six consecutive months.
Where, then, does one begin? How do we enter a headspace that not only accepts the miles as they pass but also celebrates the many to come?
Perhaps, it is wise to do what MHCGM Community Support Services Director Pete Costa suggests when nervous energy threats to overtake him and “settle into the bottom of your breath.” Between respirations, in the dip before inhaling there is a meditative interlude where the world seems suspended as if by thread.
Running, the lithesome runner will tell you, is not so different.
In fact, according The Atlantic author Nick Ripatrazone, the “mind-expanding, and hypnotic,” act is a favorite among those looking for a “meditative cadence to the union of measured breaths and metered strides.” In other words, it is well rooted in mindfulness, cathartic, cleansing. And for those of us who view running as more purgatory than purgative (viz., knee pain, IT bands, lower lumber a special kind of hell), American Psychological Association contributor Kirsten Weir has news: “As evidence piles up, the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.” She calls it the ‘Exercise Effect’.
Among its many benefits are mood enhancement, sleep normalization, anxiety management, and the reduction of chronic depression. While the science behind the ‘Exercise Effect’ involves everything from volunteers undergoing carbon-dioxide challenge tests to little white mice trotting 10 kilometers a night, researchers have long suspected “exercise alleviates chronic depression by increasing serotonin (the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants) or brain-deprived neurotrophic factor (which supports the growth of neurons).”
Furthermore, studies show exercise increases our immediate sense of purpose. Just think of it: running as meaningful activity; running as vehicle for accomplishment! Not only will a serene jog along the Merrimack improve heart health, but also it bolsters self-worth. So influential is exercise on mental health that a growing number of psychologists are calling for its inclusion into treatment plans.
At MHCGM we, too, recognize the need for incorporating exercise in the pursuit of wellness. Such is the purpose of our InSHAPE program. Needless to say, it is why we’ll be running Thursday, June 23rd. We will run for the mental health needs of those among us. But also we will be running for ourselves, so that we may continue to strive toward the sound union of mind and body.
So please join us to run as an act of communal mindfulness.
A recent study showed that only 1 in 4 kids aged 12 to 15 are meeting the U.S. government recommendations of an hour or more of moderate to vigorous activity each day, since the "Let's Move" campaign was launched in 2010. That is somewhat discouraging news as there are many opportunities outside of the school day for young people to be active. I also wonder if some previous forms of school based physical activities have been replaced somewhat with technology. I can recall playing kick ball, dodge ball, basketball, whiffle ball, just about any activity that involved a ball and running seemed to be a requirement – and nobody was allowed to sit out, unless of course you were on crutches or had a note from a doctor.
Yet today, our country is battling an obesity epidemic and if bad habits form in the early years then our adult society will continue to struggle with their weight and fitness levels. Perhaps we can blame it on modern technology – too many devices requiring our immediate attention while we sit. Or perhaps we can speculate that people are just too busy these days to squeeze in physical activity. Whatever the reason, following a path of inactivity can also have detrimental effects to one’s overall wellness – both physical and mental. Wellness reflects how one feels about life in addition to one’s ability to function effectively.
We need to prioritize our health, and as hard as it may be for some, we need to get up and get active. One activity that I have found easy to fit into a regular routine which does not require recruiting other people, is walking. I find it easy to take daily brisk walks in my neighborhood (during nice weather) or indoors when possible. Others may find biking, tennis, yoga, hiking or other sports that raise the heart rate to be their activity of choice. The point is, people need to identify the activities that they personally find enjoyable and will get them moving.
If your attachment to personal devices has been holding you back from exercising, you are also in luck. One can easily use a laptop or Ipad to plan a workout routine, use a phone app for tracking a workout or use a smart phone or ipod to listen to music while you exercise – all options may help to improve motivation for sticking with it as well. And if you love gadgets, there are new devices on the market today that will help you to track your physical activity, even while you sleep. Namely there are the Nike or Fitbit athletic wrist band trackers, which one can wear every day, among others. These devices can interface with your smartphone, ipad or computer and allows you to examine and monitor your activity levels. The wristbands can also serve as a daily reminder to get moving and provide the user with the ability to monitor progress, which can also serve as an incentive for making improvements over time. There are also many helpful websites, such as Myfitnesspal or Fitday; which allow you to track and monitor your calorie intake – for free. So, in summary, it would be very easy to utilize the technology and resources that are available today, which could offer some a more fulfilling and rewarding experience in one's quest for improving overall health and increasing physical activity levels.
There you have it, you can now get creative and get counting, get motivated and get moving and also get physical and digital to achieve overall wellness. What are you waiting for?
There is power as well as comfort in hearing other peoples story, particularly when it comes to personal experiences with mental illness. Every year The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester invites speakers, some very well known, to share their personal story or connection to mental illness with community members who attend our annual benefit dinner event. We have heard from actors, singers, authors, athletes and astronauts all who willingly shared their struggle with depression, anxiety, addictions or more serious debilitating conditions. It is estimated that 26.2% of the US population ages 18 and older
suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder year, and mental illness is the leading cause of disability.
Mental illness affects one in five people today, so there is a very large population of people who are seeking advice, resources or encouragement from those who are living with a mental illness or knows someone who is. Our strategy in asking others to share their story, is to raise awareness of the commonality that mental illness plays in our lives; it can affect a family member, a friend, a co-worker or even yourself. Personal stories inspire others to take action, seek help and will strengthen ones understanding of how mental illness plays affects all of us.
For the most part, people who are affected by mental illness look and act just like any other human being on the planet, and most people can often recover from their illness, or can
maintain its ill effects via medication services and or therapy. People need to understand that mental illness is a condition that requires treatment, and with the right support and help, most can live a normal, productive life. But the fact is; even though help is available, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment.
Our annual dinner event, which highlights personal stories of others, coincides with the celebration of October’s Mental Health Awareness Week. In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in
recognition of efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since then, mental health advocates across the country have organized community events to enhance public education about mental illness. This October also marks the 50th anniversary of The Community Mental Health Act, signed into law by President Kennedy. Today, community mental health centers, such as MHCGM, help people to manage their mental illness by providing those who seek treatment, with the tools and resources needed to improve quality of life. Hope and recovery is
possible and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Shame and stigma too often leave people feeling alone and isolated with their illness. We need to let others know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness -- it is a sign of strength. To learn more about the signs of mental illness or the 2013 Annual Celebration for Mental Health dinner and awards benefit, go to: www.mhcgm.org. Proceeds from annual fundraising events will help to provide essential mental health services for needy families in the community.
Did you know that an estimated 26.2 percent of
Americans ages 18 and older – about one in four adults – suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year? Metal health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United
States today. Most people realize that mental wellness is essential to one’s overall health and well-being, yet sometimes life events can affect us. The Do More for the 1 in 4 Campaign is a call to action, to help those who are living with a mental illness - experience an improved quality of life.
While having a mental illness may be common, people need to understand that many mental health conditions are treatable and individuals can recover and go on to lead productive lives. The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare recently stated, “Two-thirds of those who experience a mental illness go without treatment, mostly because of inability to access care and also due to stigma.” It is shame that so many people in this country live with a mental health condition and never seek help due to lack of information, stigma or lack of insurance coverage. It is time to change that and bring mental health conversations and awareness out of the dark.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester is calling on individuals and the business community to help the 1 in 4 adults who live with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition. Early identification and treatment is important and can transform lives. Fund raising activities held by individuals and businesses would go a long way in providing services to neighbors, friends and family members who are in need of care.
Some fundraising ideas to consider could include; organize or participate in a local walk or run and ask friends, neighbors and colleagues to support your efforts; initiate a casual Friday campaign throughout the month of May at your place of work in which participants submit a donation for the cause; bring a fund-raising idea to your local running club, bike club or book club; engage in a social media campaign to bring awareness to the issue and the need for community mental health services; sign up for Lite up The Nite for Mental Health 5k this June, in which proceeds help to provide charitable mental health services; or consider other unique initiatives that could help to raise funds for those who are in need of mental healthcare within the greater Manchester community.
Please show your support for mental wellness - as everyone deserves a running start in
life! If you know of anyone who is experiencing symptoms of a mental illness please have them contact their local community mental health organization.To make a donation to the Do More for the 1 in 4 Campaign, click here. Proceeds from fundraisers conducted in support of the Do More for The 1 in 4 can be sent to : MHCGM, Attn. Development Office, 401 Cypress Street, Manchester, NH 03103