The power of exercise: can we run away from our problems? | The last taboo

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‘Beyoncé’s booty-shaking tunes soon calmed my nerves’

After having a baby during lockdown, mum-of-three Sarah Tetteh badly needed to feel like herself again

Procrastination had been my best friend for the last time, I vowed. It was time to stop pretending to myself that I hadn’t exercised because my lockdown baby had kept me up all night.

Doing the running man was about to take on a whole new meaning in my home: it was no longer just about the fabulous dance from 90s music videos, it was about me running for my sanity, to start to shift my baby weight, and to have more energy to handle my brood of boys.

With babysitters then off the cards and gyms closed for the foreseeable, I had to channel what I loved the most, what had worked for me in the past, before parenthood. So back to indoor running on the treadmill I went. No more excuses – and I didn’t even need to feel mum guilt for leaving my new baby to go to the gym.

After the initial fear of “what if I can’t even do five minutes?”, the familiar tones of Beyoncé’s booty-shaking tunes soon calmed my nerves during my fartlek [interval] training, and I was off. Maybe with just a little too much gusto with the booty shaking, next time I’ll invest in some TENA to sort me out during the Crazy in Love chorus.

After my first few attempts, something magical started to happen. I achieved some sort of clarity. I was starting to clear my mind, sort out problems, make lists in my head. It was bonkers that it made such a difference.

Those endorphins, which people so often talk about, had begun to kick in and I was finally starting to feel like my old self again.

‘During times of grief I’ve wondered if it is frivolous or disrespectful to go for a jog’

Chas Newkey-Burden has such belief in the healing qualities of running that he wrote a book on it

Chas Newkey-Burden

Early in the pandemic, when there was first talk of “lockdown” but before we knew what that was, I had one burning question: will I still be able to run?

I never feel more liberated than when I am running, so I knew a daily jog would stop me from feeling locked down.

The Covid crisis has toyed with our hopes and fears but running has kept me on an even keel over the past year.

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Even a short run clears my mind and helps me solve problems and worries. It’s as if I can feel the knots in my mind becoming untied. I don’t so much run away from my problems, as take them on a run with me and bring them back differently.

When I wrote my book Running: Cheaper Than Therapy: A Celebration of Running, I delved into the science of this. As you pound the pavement you release endorphins and endocannabinoids into your blood. These reduce anxiety and depression, and help with everything from sleep to concentration. When stress drains us, the last thing we want to do is exercise. Yet that’s just what we need to do.

During times of grief I’ve wondered if it is frivolous or disrespectful to go for a jog. But I’ve found that the harder the times, the more important it is that I run. It clears my head and therefore helps me support those dear to me.

What a sanctuary running has been for me. As I pace through my local park, I feel that as long as I can do this, everything will be OK.

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