I love running because it allows me to pursue my lifetime passion for exploring the beauty in nature and has provided me with some needed physical fitness improvements as well as some surprising mental health benefits.
I have been fascinated by bird watching and hiking and exploring the outdoors since I was a child. Walking and hiking were my exercises of choice for a long time because I didn’t want to be moving along so quickly that I would miss seeing or hearing anything. However, I have learned that you can be a trail runner and still soak up the wonders of nature. In fact, I have been able to explore trails I probably would have avoided while hiking since I know I can cover more ground in a shorter period of time. A ten mile looping trail that would have taken me all day to hike only takes a few hours for me to run. I stop to sip water or eat some energy goo every couple of miles and during those pauses I focus on my surroundings more closely and see and hear the birds I love. I have spotted three new life list birds on recent trail runs and stumbled upon the most beautiful, hidden pond just last week. If anything, running has made it easier for me to feed my passion for birding.
When I took up running two years ago it was primarily to help me reduce my cholesterol readings, and to maintain a stronger overall fitness level and as I advanced into the middle aged years. That has worked out exactly as I had hoped! My blood tests show lower levels at each visit to the doctor, I initially lost ten pounds and have kept it off, and I feel stronger than ever. When I spend a day in my yard pulling weeds and trimming overgrown bushes, I no longer have to stop and rest frequently and I rarely feel sore afterwards. If I attend an event when I have to stand a lot or walk a long distance, I no longer worry that I will get tired. I just strap on my most comfortable shoes and happily tackle the day knowing I will have the stamina to enjoy every moment.
The biggest surprise for me has been how much running has done to improve my mental and emotional health. It’s not like I had any major problems in those areas in the past, but I can definitely look back and see a difference. Regular moderate or intense cardio vascular exercises like running improve sleep and reduce stress. There is nothing better for me than to fall asleep exhausted from a long run and wake up refreshed the next day. One of the less positive symptoms of middle age can be more frequent bouts of insomnia, and those are few are far between as long as I keep to my running schedule. Then there are those days at work that weigh me down mentally. I could calm my nerves with a glass of wine, or I can put on my shoes and go for a short trail run. The run is the better option every time. Even better than sleep and lower stress levels though, is the added boost of overall mental clarity and strength that I feel. Some of my longer runs have been tough to complete, and I had to mentally push myself through some aching joints to get to the finish line. That knowledge that I have the ability to push through those barriers makes any daunting task seem much less scary.
I think everyone knows that running can be an excellent form of physical exercise, but it can also be a fantastic way to explore the world around you and to feel a mental boost of optimism and confidence.