Exercise and Mental Health
The main way to wellbeing that I incorporated in my university life was “be active”. My friends know I regularly (at least try to) exercise and go running, especially with my mental health not exactly in pristine condition the past few years at university.
I wasn’t a particularly active individual back in secondary, I loved the good old game of football, but I was terrible at long distance and running in general. I LOATHED the bleep test and the Cooper run. But coming to university in first year changed that a lot, there was a massive shifting my life as I no longer had my parents as a support group, nor close friends I’ve known all my life in my relatively rural hometown of Macclesfield. So, to release all the tension as a result of the drop in my mental health in first year, and quote Forrest Gump, “I just felt like running”. I first ran all the way down Oxford road from Whitworth park, through Curry Mile and down past Fallowfiled and stopped around Withington, I almost reached West Didsbury. I stopped and ran back the same route to my accommodation after realising I needed to double back the same distance home. Bear in mind I had not properly ran or albeit exercised since about year 11, I ran a total of 8.57km in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 29 seconds.
After that run I felt a lot of relief, it helped alleviate the constant feeling of emptiness and gave me a purpose at a time I felt I had none. I thought that if I can’t directly improve my mental health, I can at least improve my physical health which may turned out to indirectly improve my mental health. I kept running every week or so, either running 5k or 10k in Platt fields whenever I just wanted to release tension. In 2nd year I managed to run the Manchester 10k, which I was extremely proud of, running a time of 51 minutes 27 seconds. I planned to do it again for 3rd year but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Over pretty much the past year, the nation has been confined to their homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This has made me put more emphasis into my fitness and has made exercise a crucial part of my lockdown routine as I started running again in semester 1 this year as my overall fitness had drastically reduced since the first lockdown in March. I noticed that over the past years my experience has helped make me more resilient in my mental health.
I should also clarify that it was not just running that I did, I also made a great group of friends who supported me, no one should have to face mental health problems alone. I also found the university counselling service very helpful which provided supportive workshops. I
recognised that whilst it was up to me to dig myself out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting help in doing so. Mental health is a complicated topic, there is not one single sure-fire guaranteed solution to getting yourself out of that hole and it is different for everyone. It isn’t easy, but I assure you it always gets better, for life is like a bow and arrow. In order to move forward, the arrow must first be drawn backwards.
By Arvin Gasco