June 21, 2024

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Every Health & Fitness Helps

how running can boost mental well-being

Weight loss and a host of other physical benefits aside, running can also help to ease anxiety and uplift one’s mood, as well as impart a sense of accomplishment and confidence, five UAE residents and Asics Frontrunners tell The National.

Here are their stories:

Khulood Ibrahim, social media and influencers specialist, and personal trainer

“Like many women, I’ve always been conscious about body image. I was overweight for most of my life, and was bullied in school and suffered from bulimia. I am still bullied on social media for not having the ‘perfect’ body, whatever that is!

“I’ve been into fitness and sports since I was 13, but the fact is hardly any of us look like the models in magazines. Running has changed the way I look at myself. I used to run for five to 10 minutes before my workout. Then one day I woke up and decided to skip the gym and to go for a longer run, about 30 minutes. I became addicted to the euphoria that running gave me. The mood boost after a run makes me feel unstoppable and ready to take on the day.”

Valerie Fagerholt-Ramadan, boutique manager

“I started running when I was 19, one cold and rainy autumn day in Denmark. An avid horse rider since early childhood, I had stopped riding due to various life circumstances. It wasn’t easy to start running and I struggled to run even one block, but I was determined to keep going as I wanted to lose weight. This was back before all the running gadgets had come into being, and I would simply clutch my heavy Sony Walkman in my hand.

“I started slowly, increasing week after week, until I suddenly I could manage 20 minutes in one go. I was surprised at my progress. A few months later, I signed up for my first 5km race, a charity run for cancer. Before I moved to Dubai, I ran in charity races in my region for breast cancer, Aids and Downs syndrome. Fast-forward to 2001 when I moved to Lebanon, and started long-run races with a 10km, half-marathon and eventually a marathon, all in the spirit of collecting charity funds for Children’s Cancer Centre and Braveheart in Beirut.

“But running hasn’t just been a way for me to help others, it has also been a lifeline for me mentally throughout. The chance to clear my mind with a run has helped me through some major challenges, including when I was leaving an unhappy marriage and my life felt upside down for a while. I know now that no matter what life throws at me, I have a tried-and-tested way to keep myself focused, strong and healthy.”

Jola Chudy, communications consultant

“I’m in my 40s, and fitness was never part of my life. Three years ago I could barely run a kilometre. With a two-decade career as an editor-in-chief, the only running I did was between airport lounges and client meetings. Running proved to be a lifeline when juggling full-time work with a toddler took an increasing toll on my mental well-being. Running was a form of therapy for me, transformative and empowering. I started with an app and then teamed up with local running coach Lee Harris.

“Achieving my first sub-two hour half marathon in 2020 reminded me of a self I’d temporarily misplaced: energised, passionate, focused and tenacious. Running a gruelling 50km desert ultra-marathon in searing heat, I rediscovered the confidence I needed to quit my job and fulfil a long-held dream to start my own communications consultancy.

“Seeing big results from small, achievable steps has been an incredibly powerful lesson for me. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I remind myself that almost nothing is as hard as that 49th kilometre running over sand dunes.”

Shaikh Fahad, digital specialist

“I turned to running because it helps me bolster my mental health and my internal thought processes. It clears my mind and enables me to feel a sense of achievement that in turn helps me feel productive. This is especially helpful during those moments of uncertainty that we all experience. I like to say that exercise is an antidepressant, and it’s free of cost. Running is meditation in a movement.

“Mental health in men is something that for too long was swept under the carpet. It wasn’t considered socially acceptable for men to open up about their feelings and emotions, but thankfully that is changing. One of the benefits of running in communities is that people connect and open up to each other. During the pandemic, people were confined to their homes, many lost that connection of opening up and communicating their thoughts and feelings, which resulted in bottling up emotions.

“I’ve learnt that when I am overwhelmed with emotions, I can’t always control it just like that. It is important to make sure emotions or negative thoughts don’t consume you, and for me, running – either alone or with friends – is a way to maintain a steady balance between work and life, to make social connections face to face, and to ensure that my mental well-being is being given the same amount of care as my physical fitness.”

Ram Sadhvani, entrepreneur

“I hail from a family involved competitively in sport, so it has been an integral part of my life. I grew up playing and competing locally in badminton, squash, table tennis, basketball, swimming and soccer. At the time, running was only cross training for these sports.

“Since 1996, I have headed my own company specialising in electromechanical design and execution. My work involves loads of driving, phone calls and on-field troubleshooting. At the end of a work day, movement is a must to help calm my nerves.

“Over the years I found running was a better ‘cure’ for combating stress. During a run, I often find answers to issues and am able to reflect on myself, which lightens my mental load. Running also helps me eat and sleep better, and waking up from a good sleep raises my cognitive awareness significantly.

“My runs have become longer and more regular. I appreciate that running doesn’t involve much in the way of planning, such as setting up a time, booking a court, driving to a venue or maintenance of gear, running shoes being replaced periodically notwithstanding! This has made it a sustainable and convenient activity. I just put on my shoes and head out the door on my own time.

“The activity’s simplicity has added to the positive effects on my mind. It has changed my perspective at home and work. I look at and solve challenges and issues more calmly, and have started responding to problems rather than reacting to them.”

Updated: October 10th 2021, 8:28 AM