There are lots of options for exercise, and any form you choose to participate in is better than nothing. As long as you get your heart rate up, you’ll improve your sleep, mood and overall level of physical and mental health.
You might think that we’re about to talk about yoga here, but we’re not. We’re going to talk about running and cycling! Exercising outdoors is probably one of the best things you can do for your emotional wellbeing. It’s simple, getting outside is just good for the soul.
You can find endless studies to prove that regular exercise is often as effective in treating depression as medication or therapy.
In addition to my writing, I also create training plans (the realistic kind, because what’s out there usually isn’t). Becoming more active doesn’t have to be intimidating or expensive, so if you’re looking to get started, check out my top tips at the end of this article.
Slow Down and Look Around
My previous neighborhood had everything from affordable condos like mine to mini-mansions (depending on the street you lived on). There was one fancier house with a tall fence that backed onto my street. It seemed that whoever lived there wanted to shut out our area, presumably since it was the ‘cheap’ one.
Once I started running, I noticed the gate and the beautiful gardens on the other side of the fence. But after a few more runs, I noticed the city’s space between the sidewalk and our street. Right next to that house was a gorgeous lush garden too!
It was only by repeatedly running there that I realized the person I thought was looking down on me from behind their fence was actually making it a more beautiful place for all of us. Eventually, I saw that person tending the garden, and I stopped to thank her. She took me through the gate and gave me a tour of her amazing backyard (with open arms).
While you’re out running and cycling, you see walkers picking up litter and neighbors turning around to shovel the walkways of others. You get to witness the compassionate actions people take when you’re paying attention outdoors.
Spend Time Outdoors
A wide range of studies have been done comparing the effects of people who exercise indoors versus outdoors and the message is ‘take it outside whenever you can!’ People who exercise outside also exercise more frequently. Additionally, it also seems to encourage other positive behaviors like improved diet and giving up bad habits.
And having access to green space has been shown to consistently improve depression, and it leads to overall better mental health. Outdoor exercisers report higher levels of rejuvenation, better moods, and higher self-esteem than those that exercise indoors. Also, you can feel the effects within five minutes, which provides an immediate reward.
Opportunities for Good
This point is what inspired me to sit down and write this article. Over the summer, I was running, and I found a cell phone with a broken screen. I texted the last few people the owner had contacted, and he called me back within 15 minutes. He was so happy to get his phone back, and I felt like a superhero in the karma department.
It feels amazing to do something nice for people, even when you don’t know them. Being outdoors has given me opportunities to do good that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I feel like I’m the lucky one.
Bond with a Tribe
Runners, like ‘real’ jeep owners, acknowledge each other when they pass. It might be a nod or a little wave or if you happen to pass me, a ridiculous toothy grin. I still love it when I get a wave from another runner, especially a fast one. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we’re both out there for the same reasons. If I’ve had a bad day, I’m down, upset, or anxious about something I’m often working on it and moving past it on my run and maybe another runner is too.
If you need some low-key human contact in your day, just go for a run on a busy path. Whether it’s a smile at the starting line of a race, or just a nod as you pass another runner, it’s good to know there’s a tribe of people that ‘get’ you.
A Slice of Humble Pie
Many times, running and cycling humble me. Running and being physically fit is an accomplishment that can sometimes come with a swollen head. Plus, the amazing changes you see in your body and mood (runners high) can start to make you feel like a million bucks (which is great).
Truthfully, we all get that way from time to time, and everyone has moments they need to be taken down a notch. It’s right then when a senior citizen runner will pass you on a hill. Humble pie served fresh.
Be Your Best Self
You’ll probably never win a race or even qualify for the Boston Marathon. I know I won’t, but you will smash your own records. I couldn’t run from lamppost to lamppost when I started, but last summer, I ran my first 1/2 marathon in my 30’s after I gave up on the idea in my early 20’s. It felt incredible to do something I dismissed as ‘too hard’ (if not impossible) 10 years earlier.
Running and cycling, like with most things in life, need effort and consistency. If you set goals, stay committed, and work towards improving, nothing is impossible.
Personal records are something runners keep track of regularly. Running is a sport where you compete with yourself and celebrate milestones, and this fosters self-acceptance, including your limitations, and you spend less energy comparing yourself to others. No matter who you are, you’ll go faster, farther, and stronger than you ever dreamed possible. The next opportunity to impress yourself is just a sneaker lace-up away.
Cheap and Chic: Getting Started List
- Get a good, used (non-department store) bike. You might have to watch for a while, but eventually, you’ll be able to find a great one for next to nothing. (If you’re not sure what bike to get, grab a hybrid.)
- C25K or Couch to 5K are revolutionary running starter plans. They’ll take you from nothing to running 5Ks in as little as six weeks (or at whatever pace is most comfortable). These programs are also offered as a smartphone app so you can bring your goals with you wherever you go.
- You don’t need to buy a bunch of fancy, expensive equipment to get started. As long as you have sneakers with some life in them, you can start running. Now isn’t the time to buy high-end running shoes anyway. Once you wear out a pair, a specialist can examine the wear and make a proper assessment. Maybe then splurge and reward yourself. (And, if you’re one of those more endowed ladies, make sure you have a good quality, supportive sports bra too.)
- Don’t be self-conscious. Just trying and getting outside is a victory.
- You’re not walking. You’re pre-running! Pre-running is a great way to get out there. It also improves your mental and physical health by being good for your soul in all the same ways as running and cycling do. Plus, when you acknowledge that you’re ‘pre-running,’ you’re reminding yourself that you’re working toward your ultimate goal which is to go for your first run.
- Most running stores have a free running club where you get to run with a coach or download a free app. You can connect with others in your neighborhood and at your fitness level. Some of them even give you digital trophies.
- Safety should always be a priority. Remain aware of your surroundings, avoid poorly lit, dangerous, and isolated locations, and bring your cell phone just in case.
Just lace those shoes and get outside for 5 minutes today. Tomorrow, go out for 10. Eventually, you’ll wonder why you didn’t get started sooner. But it’s never too late, and it all begins with that first step out the door. Before you know it, you’ll build a streak or complete a 5K, or make a new friend who you can inspire.
Here at Sad Runner, we love the mental health benefits of running (so much that we put it in our name). We hope you enjoy our other articles on running (mostly found in the motivation section) and share them with others.