Moving For My Mental Health

Date: 17 May 2024   Author: Energise Me

Sue has experienced episodes of severe depression in the past and found that getting outdoors helped to quieten those overwhelming thoughts. Now, she's sharing her story to help those who may be in a similar situation as she was.

My name’s Sue, I’m 60, and I live in Hythe, near Southampton Water and the New Forest. In my thirties and forties, I experienced several episodes of severe depression. During the bad times, it was almost impossible to motivate myself to have a shower or get dressed, let alone do any kind of physical activity or sport. I did know, though, that getting outside, especially into nature, would always make me feel better.

Why The Outdoors?

There’s something very powerful about the feeling of fresh air on my skin, hearing the joyful sounds of birdsong, and absorbing the green and blue expanses of the landscape and the sky. These sensations break through the clouds of negative thoughts and feelings in my head, and lift my spirits, in a way that I can’t experience by being in a gym or a sports hall.

I always feel better afterwards – happy, proud of what my body can do, and grateful that I can look after my mental health

Finding What Works For Me

A turning point for me was being diagnosed with osteoporosis in my late forties. I decided to try running, as an inexpensive, flexible way of getting weight-bearing exercise to improve my bone density. It makes me smile that I describe myself as a runner these days, when I was no good at PE at school, especially not cross-country running! Now, I love trail running in the New Forest, with the sounds and sights of nature all around me.

I’m slow, but I’ve built up my stamina over the years, so I can go out for an hour or two, with my water bottle and my snack, walking the uphills if I need to, and stopping to take photos of the stunning landscape, and the ponies of course. I always feel better afterwards – happy, proud of what my body can do, and grateful that I can look after my mental health so much better these days, through the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

Embracing Challenges

I’ve had the odd setback, when I’ve got injured, but I’ve been able to go out walking instead until I’m ready to build up my running again gradually.

I’ve also joined a really supportive virtual running group on Facebook, where lots of the members have had their own mental health challenges, and we can motivate each other and celebrate our successes – whether that’s running a marathon, or getting out for a 10 minute walk around the block.

If you’re having a bad day and don’t get out, don’t beat yourself up, try again another time.

Advice To You

For anyone who’s in a similar position to how I used to be, I would encourage you to:

  • Start small and simple, and build up gradually from there. Ask for support from friends and family (is there someone who could be your “activity buddy” and join you?), and take the first step, in whatever way feels right for you and your mental health – it could be walking to the end of your road and back.
  • Write down your activities in a diary or calendar, so that you can see your achievements.
  • If you’re having a bad day and don’t get out, don’t beat yourself up, try again another time.
  • If you want to take up running like me, the NHS Couch to 5k app is excellent, and free – but if running isn’t for you, walking is just as good. As time goes on, you’ll be able to go at a brisker pace, get your heart rate up, and really feel the benefits to your body as well as your mental health.

Good luck, and enjoy!

Ready to move for your mental health?

If you’ve been inspired to take the first step, there are plenty of places to start. You can get outside, follow online videos, visit the Hampshire and Activity Finder, or use national resources like the We Are Undefeatable 5 in 5 to help you find moments for movement throughout the day.

We want you to feel supported throughout your physical activity journey. So, why don’t you include us in your active milestones? Use our good news form to share your successes and reflections. Let us celebrate you and spread your news on our social media platforms to inspire others!

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