Invest in your own health and wellbeing by running or walking

Ahead of The Echo Women's Mini Marathon on September 19, Dr Michelle O'Driscoll reminds us about the benefits of running or walking
Invest in your own health and wellbeing by running or walking

Faces in the crowd, at the start of The Echo Women's Mini Marathon back in 2017. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

THIS year marks a special milestone for The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon – 40 years of coming together to get out and active, while raising money for very worthy charities.

Thinking of dusting off your running shoes to join it this year? By doing so, not only will you be supporting a cause of your choice at a time when funds are increasingly scarce, but you’ll be investing in your own health and wellbeing. 

There are multiple known and proven benefits of running or walking, being active is a key element of physical and mental health.

Physical health

Research demonstrates that increased levels of physical exercise leads to lower levels of mortality, so it makes sense that we should try our best to engage with some type of physical activity during our day or week, with some being better than none.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults 18-64 years manage 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, that is any exercise that gets the heart pumping. 

An achievable way to do this is to fit in 30 minutes per day, for five days of the week.

While physical activity can be any type that you enjoy most, running and walking have increased in popularity as the physical activities of choice, particularly in the last 18 months due to the restrictions of lockdown, considering what was open and within our approved radius. Some of the pros are that it’s accessible, straightforward, and free of charge.

Heart health

We’re very conscious of what we eat for a healthy heart, but exercise is just as important.

The heart is a muscle that is working 24 hours a day, and by exercising we are strengthening that muscle, inviting it to pump more strongly to get blood and oxygen around the body.

There is a proven inverse relationship between physical activity and cardiovascular disease mortality, which means more physical activity reduces the risk of events like heart attack. 

In particular, exercise helps the body to reduce blood pressure levels, because it causes nerve and blood adjustments in the body, reducing pressure resistance that the heart is facing while it’s doing its job.

Weight management

Excess fat tissue or adiposity, particularly around the middle of the tummy, can lead to increased health risks – heart health can be impacted, and joints can be placed under added pressure, increasing their wear and tear.

Internal organs can become surrounded in fatty layers, impeding their successful functioning. While exercise is not sufficient as a sole approach to weight management (nutrition plays a vital role in such a management plan), it seems that increased physical activity may be associated with more favourable levels of adiposity, and makes weight values less likely to increase.

Cancer risk reduction

It is well established that higher levels of physical activity reduce the risk of breast cancer, and the same can be said for colon cancer.

More recent research indicates that exercise can have a protective effect against a number of other cancers: bladder, endometrial, oesophageal, adenocarcinoma, gastric and renal cancers all show to have a reduced level of risk when physical activity is high, reductions of between 10-20%.

Studies are ongoing to expand the evidence relating to risks of other cancers.

Mental health

For many, despite the list of benefits detailed above, physical activity such as walking or running is less about the physical effects and more about the mental benefits, which are undeniable.

Cognitive function

As time passes and we age, we may notice a slowing of our cognitive process. 

Physical activity at moderate-to-vigorous intensity has been shown to improve the brain structure and function.

On a practical level, this means sharper focus and concentration, improved speed and memory, and a lower risk of developing things like Alzheimer’s disease. Linked to this is the evidence that exercise improves sleep quality and duration, which in itself is a positive outcome for brain function.

Mood

More and more people are acknowledging the mental health struggle that they face in terms of mood and stress management, with the pandemic serving to further exacerbate previously underlying issues.

Even if you don’t feel like doing it to begin with, that post-activity feeling of euphoria is thanks to feel-good endorphins or brain chemicals that are released to provide a natural high. 

The research supports physical activity to boost mood and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Pent up energy that contributes to those fight or flight symptoms is burnt off, and it’s easier to tune into the physical sensations of the body when it kicks into action, which takes us out of our ruminating or worrying thoughts and cuts the downward spiral short.

Connection

Loneliness has been shown to be as lethal as smoking; lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.

Physical activity is a great way to spark connection, whether it’s as part of participation in The Echo Women’s Virtual Mini Marathon or walking a loop in your local area with a friend. 

The feeling of being in this together; up hill and down, hail, rain or shine.

The synchronicity of your strides, the sense of joint accomplishment, friendship and teamwork, and the opportunity to fit in a good natter along the way, or a coffee at the end - it all works wonders for our mental health.

The Mini Marathon has become a permanent pin in the calendar for many, symbolising their overcoming of obstacles, the twists in the road, and the grit they drew on to get them through.

It’s a chance to travel that road together, holding one another up, keeping each other going, and remembering that it’s more about the physical and mental health journey than the finish line.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Michelle O’ Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally.

See www.intuition.ie

How you can get involved this year...

The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon virtual race day goes ahead this year on September 19. But don’t worry, if you can’t do your virtual 6k on that date, you can do it between Friday, September 16 and 26.

Registration this year is as follows;

a) Early Bird, 10 euro = includes a race number and medal b) After Early Bird Closes = 15 euro There will be the option for people to set up an iDonate fundraising page for registered charities.

You can register for the event at the new site: www.echolive.ie/minimarathon 

 Also keep an eye on social media @theechominimarathon

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