THE legions of joggers you can see energetically pounding their way round our streets, parks and walkways is a clear indicator that the running calendar is back in full swing, with thousands training for events the length and breadth of Scotland.
Whether it is a fun run, 10K, half marathon or marathon, one of the most heart-warming sights at these events is the number of charity vests and T-shirts on show. The prospect of raising awareness and funds for a chosen cause can be just as rewarding as the benefits of improving fitness and reaching personal goals.
Like other charities, we are always honoured when someone chooses to run for us, and usually there is an inspirational story behind their efforts – one that will remind us just how important it is for us continue delivering the services we do.
As an organisation, we are fully committed to ending the health equalities experienced by people living with mental illness and improving physical health to help people live longer and happier lives.
We were therefore pleased to see that the Scottish Government’s new Mental Health Strategy included increased physical activity high on its list of priorities, recognising that being active is good for mental wellbeing. We echo the view of Maureen Watt, the Minister for Mental Health, that “it is unacceptable that people with severe and enduring mental illness may have their lives shortened by 15 to 20 years because of physical ill-health”.
Evidence proves that physical activity can be one of the most effective ways to relieve stress and improve your mental health, but we also know from some of the people we support in our services that exercise can be a daunting prospect. For someone dealing with feelings of anxiety, loneliness or isolation, just stepping over their front doorstep can represent a challenge.
Exercise is not something people should feel pressured into, but with encouragement and support they can become well-informed about the positive impact it can have on mental health and wellbeing.
As the Mental Health Foundation succinctly advises: “We need to change the way we view physical activity in the UK in order not to see it as something we ‘have to do’, ‘should do’ or ‘ought to do’ for our health, but as something that we do because we personally value its positive benefits to our wellbeing.” Personal fitness is exactly that – personal. People of all ages and fitness levels can take on a programme of physical activity at their own pace. Often, literally, it is a case of learning to walk before you run.
Support in Mind Scotland promotes physical activity through a number of groups within our services and one typical success story has been our Walking Group, which operates from the Stafford Centre in Edinburgh.
Led by dedicated volunteers, a group of service users sets out each Monday on a chosen route and inevitably finishes with well-earned coffee and cake.
“It is great for physical health, mental health and for connecting socially,” says our volunteer, George. “There have been people who have come along who wouldn’t have said boo to a goose before, but have come along and enjoyed a walk and a blether and enjoyed the social side. Our numbers have been really encouraging and it’s a nice mixed group – last week, for example, we had a 21-year-old and a 70-year-old.”
Inclusivity is also at the heart of a new major physical activity campaign we are launching this year – the 100 Streets Challenge. The number 100 is significant as it reflects the statistic that 1 in 100 Scots suffers from a serious mental illness. From 1 May to 31 October we are calling on people to raise mental health awareness and improve their fitness by either running or cycling 100 streets in one day.
Walkers can clock up the century of streets over a number of days. It’s a great way of getting out and exploring your town or city one street at a time. You can map and complete the Challenge on your own, with a friend, in a relay, or as part of a group.
When we piloted the challenge last year, I joined a group led by one of our ambassadors, Scott Hastings, and after plenty of laughs and chat along the way, we stopped for bacon rolls and a cuppa halfway round before completing the route. The emphasis is on fun as well as fitness. For more information about the Challenge, please visit www. 100streetschallenge.com or call Support in Mind Scotland on 0131 662 4359.
Colin Leslie is fundraising manager at Support in Mind Scotland