New year's resolutions. I don't really do them. I've either lost interest by twelfth night, or set a target so unachievable that the idea's faded away with the bongs of Big Ben. But here we are into the third month of 2018, and I'm pleased to say this year is different. I've stuck to the resolution and feel so much better for it. Which, with this project, is the whole point. So let me introduce you to RED January. It stands for Run Every Day, but it's not just about running. Or, for that matter, January. Nor is it just about your physical fitness, as important as that is. The whole point of RED January is to show that regular exercise can be incredibly beneficial for improving your mental health too, throughout the year.
It's got the blessing of MIND, the leading mental health charity. Fundraising, although welcome, is not a prerequisite. What's more important is to take part and to spread the word. The campaign is the brainchild of Hannah Beecham, and it started as a result of her own family's experience. As Hannah explains on her website, “My mum has suffered with depression for a number of years, sometimes going for weeks without seeing the light of day.
“Feeling helpless, I thought about the positive effects running has on my mind and wondered if it could help her in some way. I signed us up to the Walk the Walk Midnight Marathon. She tackled each day one at a time, getting out of the house and feeling the benefits of exercise. “Since doing the challenge, mum is now focused on signing up to her first organised run. She's not cured of her depression, but now knows how to manage periods of feeling low. I know it's not easy for her, but I can see her fighting back, determined to get out of bed and into the world”. Inspired by her mum's positive experience, Hannah set up RED January to try and encourage more people to take up physical activity for the good of their mental health. This is a policy area in which I take a particular interest, so when I found out about it, I made contact with Hannah and pledged to support and promote the project. Boldly, I said I would also commit to taking part.
Thankfully, the 'Run' bit of the name is not to be taken literally. The idea is to do some kind of physical exercise every day. I thought my activity would be firmly confined to the walking end of the scale, but as I got into it, something unexpected happened. I rediscovered my love of running. Years ago, I was a regular runner. I have the London Marathon, several half marathons and loads of 10Ks under my belt. But these days, that belt needs to circumnavigate several more inches. I always thought middle-age spread would make running too difficult or too embarrassing, or both. But actually, as long as you listen to your body, pace yourself and adjust your mileage accordingly, it's fine. And who cares what anyone else thinks about that slightly-too-tight T-shirt anyway?
Workload sometimes means I can't squeeze in a full-blown run each day, in which case I trot that little bit faster to the office or take the stairs up to the sixth floor. And sometimes the pace of a run dwindles to the extent that 'walk' is the only fair description. But it doesn't matter. As long as you do something every day – that's the point. And you know what? It works. The endorphins get into your brain and make you feel better, sharper and more awake. The thinking time helps to unknot problems and equips you effectively to resolve them. A period away from Wi-Fi devices is a real joy in our over-connected world. And talking to myself – something I do anyway to help straighten things out in my head – is less embarrassing when you're out there and nobody can hear you. Many issues have been resolved in the lanes of North Devon on a Saturday afternoon or along the Thames embankment late on a Tuesday night.
It really makes a difference just on this level. But if you have a mental health condition, the effects of regular exercise can be even more beneficial and can form part of a long-term recovery or treatment plan. Of course you should take care, and seek professional advice if you're at all concerned. But as Hannah says, “By running every day, you can kick-start the year in the most positive way possible, helping to make a difference to people's lives, including your own”.
So my new year's resolution this year has lasted into March. It's not always a run, and it's not every day, but it feels so much better. Give it a go.
For more info, go to http://www.runeverydayjanuary.com or https://www.mind.org.uk/redjanuary.