During the Tokyo Olympics last year, Simone Biles made a decision that seemed unconventional. She decided to forego an opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal to instead prioritize her mental health. After her withdrawal, Biles’s sponsors, including Athleta, showered her with support.
Biles isn’t the only athlete who’s spoken out about her mental health taking priority. Naomi Osaka, Abby Wambach, and many track and field stars have been open about their struggles with anxiety, depression, addiction and more.
While research shows that running itself can boost mood and improve mental health — and according to Asics’ recent “State of the Mind Index,” a global survey of more than 37,000 people, all you need is just over 15 minutes of exercise to experience that mental boost — it’s so important and helpful to have other resources at the ready to support your well-being. Thankfully, more fitness brands and runner-focused organizations are offering materials and services to help support everyday athletes’ mental health.
So, in honor of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, here are a few initiatives that help to ensure runners maintain both their physical and mental fitness.
AthletaWell: Workouts and Workshops
AthletaWell, a free fitness community run by Athleta, provides women with a platform to engage with others and improve their mental health through movement.
After creating a free AthletaWell login, members can access resources, workshops, and workouts, including an audio-guided walking mediation. The website also provides free 10-minute on-demand workout classes focused on themes like strength, empowerment, and self-love, all hosted by obé Fitness instructors.
Through conversation boards women can also support one another in their fitness and mental health journeys and get advice from AthletaWell Guides — experts in areas like sleep, strength training, body positivity, nutrition, and physical therapy.
The online community also includes “Mental Health Matters,” a collection of videos and resources made through a partnership with Frame Therapy.
Asics: Blue Jean Mile
This May, Asics is partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to sponsor the third annual Blue Jean Mile, hosted to benefit the organization. The event is exactly as it sounds: Runners don a pair of blue jeans and see how fast they can run a mile. You can sign up for free to run virtually, with the option to donate to NAMI.
Asics elite athlete Johnny Gregorek came up with the idea for the unique event. After Gregorek’s brother Patrick lost his battle with mental illness at the age of 21 in March 2019, Gregorek was inspired to raise money for NAMI NYC.
“I still feel his spirit with me every day and trying to honor that spirit I thought, ‘Well why don’t I try to run a really fast mile in blue jeans.’ A joyful and fun thing that sounded a lot like my brother, ”Gregorek says in a video interview.
During that first tribute run in 2020, Gregorek set the world record for the fastest mile in blue jeans in 4:06, and he raised $ 31,000.
Lululemon: Peace on Purpose
Partnering with the UN Foundation, Lululemon is focusing on consumers’ mental health through meditation tools. Peace on Purpose is a library of online audio guides covering topics like finding calm, working with anxiety, managing loss and grief, and responding to challenges.
Each course starts with an approximately two-minute introduction explaining why the practices are important and what to expect in the series. Listeners are then guided through short audio meditations filled with relaxing music and the soothing voices of experts from around the world, such as clinical counselor Hiro Demichelis, and Kimiko Bokura, the founder of the Mindful Leadership Institute. The lessons are so calming that the settling into sleep meditation actually encourages listeners to fall asleep while listening to the 30-minute session.
New Balance and District Vision: Mental Health Courses
New Balance and District Vision, an LA-based inner peace collective, are promoting mental health through fashion and education. The duo recently launched a footwear and apparel collection, as well as a five-part micro-course series ($ 10 for each online video) promoting mental health through running.
One of the courses is led by Team New Balance athletes and Olympians Emily Sisson and Brenda Martinez. Sisson, the newly minted American half marathon record holder, and Martinez utilized their personal experiences to provide mindfulness and self-love tips and advice to tackle mental hurdles and depression.
GaTa, a New Balance ambassador, rapper, and actor, who also lives with bipolar disorder, hosts a series of meditation sessions with District Vision co-founder, Max Vallot. Vallot asks GaTa candid questions about his mental health and then coaches GaTa through meditation exercises, which viewers can participate in virtually. Other courses cover topics like breathwork with professional skateboarder Alex Olson, as well as techniques from the “Beyond Jogging” method, which brings mindfulness to running, with author Mike Spino.
Road Runners Club of America: Mental Health Guide
The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) is fulfilling its mission to “empower everyone to run,” by offering free resources for all stages of the running journey. Research suggests that athletes are at higher risk of mental health concerns, like depression, anxiety, and substance misuse, than the general population. RRCA recognizes this and that’s why they provide runners with a free mental health guide.
In this comprehensive resource, you’ll find ways to address common challenges such as stress, anxiety, and depression. It outlines the signs and symptoms and then details skills and strategies to improve mental well-being, identifying when and how to seek professional help. Finding a therapist, let alone the right therapist, can be overwhelming and expensive, so the guide offers tools to make the search less daunting.
Ways to Run in Support of Mental Health Awareness
Looking for a way to move your body in an effort to boost mental health awareness, research, and access to care? You can also sign up for one of these:
- American Mental Health Counselors Association Virtual 5K: The American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) is hosting a virtual 5K from May 8 through 21 to promote mental health awareness. All money raised will benefit AMHCA, which is one of the only national organizations that advocates for clinical mental health counselors.
- Runs for a Purpose Virtual Run / Walk / Bike: Runs for a Purpose is sponsoring a virtual event throughout May in an effort to support numerous mental health charities, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, The Jed Foundation, and Project Sanctuary. Register for the virtual race, then run, walk, or bike a 5K, 10K, or half marathon at any time this month.
- Hope Network One in Five Series: Honoring one in five people who will face a mental illness in their lifetime, the Hope Network One in Five Series offers a virtual movement challenge throughout the month of May. They also offer an in-person 5K and team marathon in Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 12, and a virtual 5K and 10K on October 10 this year.
- Still I Run Virtual Community: This community of runners across the country clocks miles in support of mental health awareness and to fight the stigma around mental illness. To get involved, you can join team Still I Run and start your own fundraising page, become an ambassador, join a chapter near you, or meet up for an in-person run.
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