Graeme Armstrong: Physical activity is one route to mental health

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Human ability to run has come a long way since humans developed the ability to run long distances in their hunt for food. Now there’s a variation of racing levels, multi-million pound sponsorship deals associated with runners, and Olympic status.

We also have known for decades that running comes with an array of health benefits. From improving your circulation and strengthening muscles, to increasing lung capacity and burning fat, running has always been a great tool to improve your physical health.

But what about the health of your mind?

Recent campaigns such as Heads Together, which has been supported by The Duke of Cambridge, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry has been working to end the stigma behind mental health. It has had a particular focus on physical activity helping many people overcome the challenges they are facing mentally.

We all seem to understand the idea that getting active is good for you physically, but increasingly people are talking about the benefits to our mental health.

And it doesn’t always have to be on a competitive level. Dusting off your trainers and going for a jog can be just what you need to get out the house, enjoy some fresh air and clear your head.

Understandably, for a lot of people finding the motivation to actually get up and go quite tough, but this is where joining a running club or rallying your friends and family can help.

Setting yourself goals gives you confidence, challenges you mentally and arguably, can prevent future mental health issues.

Some people say they have never had a bad run in their lives – even managing to go around the block is an achievement in itself and helps give your head the space we all sometimes need.

For me personally, running blows the cobwebs away and helps me see more clearly. It gives me a chance to forget about worries or work – or whatever is on my mind that day – and focus on relaxing and enjoying being active and outside.

As the chairman of The City of Edinburgh Running Festival (CERF), I have come across many runners who feel the same. We started CERF as a running festival with the aim to get the whole community together and create an event that would push and praise our athletes. It gives runners a chance to compete and have friends, family or even neighbours lend their support.

If you already run as a hobby, no matter your age, I’d recommend joining a club or entering a competition. The positives are endless.

Hopefully we will see more people shining a light on the mental health benefits of exercise and end the stigma of mental health once and for all.

It would be great to see more campaigns, like Heads Together, spreading the word about balance and the partnership between a healthy body and a healthy mind. If you are able to move, please do. It’s not just your body that will thank you for it.

Graeme Armstrong is chairman of CERF. The City of Edinburgh Running Festival takes place on 23 June at Meggetland, Edinburgh