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.