This Mental Health Awareness Week 2024, the theme is ‘Movement For Mental Health’. Movement sometimes can be challenging. Life can be challenging enough at the best of times, so why is it good for us to set ourselves even more challenging goals? MQ’s staff member Juliette Burton explains why setting yourself a challenge can be good for you.

Each February I take part in the London Winter Run Series where I run 10k and raise money for charity. I am not a natural runner. I’ve flat feet, every one of my joints is hypermobile which thanks to MQ I now know is linked to mental illness according to this study, and my times are not as fast as some. But I love running. I love challenging myself just to keep going. It quietens my mind. And just as research proves, running helps my mental health massively.

At the extreme end of the movement spectrum, hundreds of competitors take part in the Montane Spine Race every January and June, an endurance challenge to run the length of the Pennine Way. For the winter version, the runners are in near Artic conditions. Nearly 500 runners battled in knee-high snow, some with as little as 2 hours sleep for the whole of the 268 mile course.

As hard as they might sound to some of us, races like these – known as Ultra Marathons – are for some people a massive benefit to their mental health. For Jack Scott, who came 2nd in 2023’s Winter Spine Race, ultra-running helped him with a serious gambling addiction.

Jack’s personal story matches research that has proved running can reduce addiction cravings, including drug and alcohol addictions. In addition to this runners brain have been proven to show more connectivity to aid planning and decision making, evidence shows running helps promote new neurons in the area of the brain connected to memory,  and another study found running at a younger age helps promote better memory later in life.

For Allie Bailey, who in 2018 became the first woman to run 100 miles across a frozen lake, being an endurance runner helped her with her suicidal thoughts. At the start of her running experience she didn’t enjoy running at all, which is good news for those of us not yet at the 100 mile mark. She has said publicly she hated running to begin with but after multiple depressive episodes over 6 years she used running to help her mental health.

Research has indeed proven that running and other physical exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. And for Allie, running was the path towards managing her depression in a more effective way.

For Allie and Scott, running ultra marathons helps them with their mental health. And then there are those of us who prefer something a little more reserved in terms of mileage.

Running the charity 10k I take part in began as a way for me to process the grief of losing a loved one. It quickly became far more for me: a reason to get active and stay active in colder months, a way to listen to my body and get in tune with this strange machine of skin, flesh and bones that I live within.

Others feel similarly. Pierre ran the Vitality 10k in 2022 to raise money for us at MQ and just like other people cited in this blog, he found the experience rewarding.

“Taking part in the Vitality 10k run has been a greatly positive experience for me. Signing up for a run was a way for me to commit with a specific date which was a motivation to include running in my daily routine. The event itself was tremendously organised and running through the streets of London with thousands of people cheering us on was an unforgettable experience. It’s been beneficial for my physical health and… since then, I’ve managed to keep running in my routine and have participated in more running events.”

Running can be wonderful for your mental health as can getting active in any way. And MQ has heaps of challenges you can set yourself. You don’t have to run 268 miles across a frozen Pennine Way, or 100 miles across a frozen lake. You don’t even have to run the Vitality 10k. There are a number of different challenges you can take up, set your sights on and achieve, all while raising money for mental health research.

So if you’d like to take your first step towards better mental health, for you and for those who’ll benefit from the research you could be raising money for, take a look at our Challenge page now.



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