Run Talk Run: alternative therapy

Have you ever got your heart rate up when not feeling your best? Perhaps you went for a walk or jog. No doubt you felt better for it after. That’s because exercising releases those ‘’happy hormones’’- endorphins. These lift our mood, help us de-stress, and help us sleep better. That sense of achievement in completing some often evaded physical activity gives us confidence that we can do it, which in turn lifts our self-esteem. If these outcomes were the effects of a tablet it would no doubt be highly sought after.

Telling yourself or others to get active is easily said, but often there are challenges to overcome to get there. That is where Run Talk Run can help. It is a weekly mental health support running group that aims to break down barriers to exercise whilst providing a safe space for people to talk about good days, bad days and everything in between. It is a national turned global initiative that was launched in 2017 by Jess Robson, who herself at the time was experiencing depression and found running with others helped her to open up about her mental health.

Clarendon Lodge Medical Practice in Leamington Spa launched the first West Midlands Run Talk Run in July 2020. The group is led by a diverse team: Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi - general practitioner, Dr Shahnaz Hassan - psychiatrist, Mick Hurrell - Fitness coach for the over 50s, Dominic Shepherd - social prescriber and Stephen Gallagher - practice manager. 

Participants have come from all walks of life to join in the weekly adventure. Each has their own reason for attending; some have diagnosed mental health conditions, some come for their physical wellbeing and others for the social aspect. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with the benefits of the group far-reaching into all components of life. Just some of the advantages participants have reported back include reduced social isolation, overcoming agoraphobia and anxiety, better sleep, the motivation to stop smoking and reach activity goals from being able to talk and run at the same time to running in races. One of the most gratifying aspects for us as leaders is to see the community come together to support each other in their goals and form connections outside the group. Several runners now meet on Saturdays to do the parkruns together, and this week two runners planned to tackle the Yorkshire peaks together on a weekend away. Some were inspired to set up other Run Talk Runs and there are now three available in the Warwickshire area on different days of the week.

There is a wealth of research on the benefits of physical activity on mental and physical health, and our project has allowed us to witness this first-hand. Our participants have shared the rewards they have reaped with others, and as such the group has grown as people invite family and friends along. Our efforts also attracted the attention of the local media and we have spoken to the local newspapers and BBC Radio about the initiative.

So if you have been convinced that social exercise has a vital role to play in wellbeing, why not try out your nearest Run Talk Run? We would also be delighted to host you at Clarendon Lodge, Leamington Spa on Tuesdays at 6.30pm.

If you have been charmed and enthused to go further, then maybe you want to consider being a run leader. Dr Al-Zubaidi, regional lead for Run Talk Run West Midlands, is your go-to for advice and support:

Happy running!

If you’d like to find out more, and become part of the growing network of Active Practices, head over to the physical activity hub.

About the writers

Dr Shahnaz Hassan, Psychiatrist and Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi, Lifestyle GP.