Going the distance brings benefits to one’s mental health

The article was first published on The Straits Times #runwithmok column on 05 Aug 2017. 

 

Many of us are aware of the physical benefits of exercise. Endurance sports, like running, can trim our waistlines, improve our cardiovascular health and lower our risks of chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. But that is not all that we stand to gain by putting on those running shoes! Through its effects on our brain, running can also sharpen our mind and nurse our heart. 

 

 

1. Stress coping function


Stress is part and parcel of living in Singapore.. If poorly managed, it can eventually lead to disabling mental conditions like depression and anxiety. Many studies have shown that aerobic exercise promotes the release of norepinephrine and serotonin, brain chemicals that can moderate our response to stress. It also allows the secretion of endorphins, a hormone which generates feelings of happiness that is also responsible for our uplifting mood after a long run .


Regular running can also alleviate anxiety. When we run, we learn to focus on our bodies and become more mindful of our surroundings.  Subconsciously we also  improve our breathing pattern and teach  our bodies to relax. The end result?  Less tension and worries  rummaging through our heads, and a more regulated sleep cycle so our body can enjoy a better rest at night

 

 

2. Sharpening cognitive function


Animal studies have shown that aerobic exercise can boost brain cells and improve nerve connections in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. High intensity running is found to increase the levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), a protein which is associated with our brain’s capacity to function well. Running has also been found to reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly. A recent study of elderly participants found that those who engage in regular exercise performed better in memory, IQ and mathematics tests compared to those who did not.

 

3. Confidence and character building function


When we look good, we naturally feel even better. Running is a great way to lose weight, which is also linked to positive self-esteem and give us that extra bounce in our step. By changing up your routine, setting training goals and taking part in running events and races, we also learn to overcome physical and psychological challenges along the way. When faced with life setbacks, running can be the healthier alternative to escapism or depression.  

 

lightofhope

 

On that same vein, the organisers of The Light of Hope Run 2017, Touch Community Services, aim to raise the awareness of depression. How apt this is, as running itself provides pertinent benefits against depression. So the next time you feel down, consider going for a run – that extra mile might be what it takes to bring back that smile!


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Dr Aaron Meng

Dr Aaron Meng is a medical doctor who is in advanced training in Psychiatry. He is also an avid runner and has accomplished a 2hr 48min personal best in the marathon event.

ONEathlete x ONEteamsg Special – Mok Ying Ren

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

About two million years ago homo sapiens evolved long legs and short toes to run for survival. Since then, Man has progressed from hunter-gatherers chasing food to running down competition but the race against time, for time, continues. In this time immemorial cycle of life, the young chases the old, the hunter becomes the hunted. Time is the enemy of all. Does one choose to rage against the dying of the light or fill the unforgiving minute with its worth of run?

(Photo Credits: ONEathlete)

Mok Ying Ren is 29 years old. The creases on his face wink in agreement when Mok smilingly bemoans “that the party doesn’t last forever and one day the music will have to stop.”

Once Mok was performing overnight duties at the hospital. There was a patient who got really excited knowing she was going to be stitched up by the national marathoner because “now I’ve got your autograph for life”. By all accounts time has also left its indelible mark on us all. In medicine as in running, it is always a race against time. Mok knows it only too well.

The enormity of the mission behind Mok’s medical profession has lent a great gravity and awareness of the fragilities of life and the human body. After spending a large part of his earlier running career overcoming personal injuries and now dedicating himself to the wounds of others, Mok quietly accepts when his legs take longer to recover, and his breathing more laboured as his heart and lungs strain to compensate. Men at 30 learn to close softly, doors they know won’t be opening again.

Professional running has been compared by some to poetry in motion. Gliding legs caressing the pavement like a carefree antelope, although not even the fastest or most graceful of them has been known to escape the endless pursuit of time. The younger Mok admittedly had an immolating passion and fury raged in his belly, which did not play well to the strengths of a sport where the one who wins is often the last to slow down.

Today, Mok can hold his own among some of the region’s best marathoners, and turn up the heat with a burst of speed or join a breakaway. The feisty runner is hardly one to expect mercy from after the gun goes off. But he always delivers respect. Respect your opponent and the distance. Respect your body. Respect the clock.

How much fire still burns within him? No one, including Mok himself, knows how his SEA Games bid will end. “You have to be absolutely committed, and hungry,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t tell myself that I must win this race or break that record.”

For the doctor-athlete straddled between medical responsibilities and athletic pursuit, Mok’s priorities were clear – his patients. “Their lives and well-being are my responsibility, and I owe it to them and their families that they receive complete focus and attention. When I was put in situations where I had to choose between my training and my patients, I was convicted to prioritize the latter. I guess then, training was compromised, but I gave the best of my ability.”

2017_Run_Mok_0334.jpg(photo credits: Ming Ham)

Like medicine, athletics is a lifelong apprenticeship where lessons are passed from one generation to the next. Through mistakes made and guidance shared, the baton is passed as the young learn what they can and the wise imparts what they have.

Mok knows his success is not his alone and he is grateful to friends, family and coaches who have stood by him throughout all these years, as well as the continuing support of partners and sponsors like 100PLUS and New Balance.

At the 29th SEA Games in KL, Mok will be trying to beat the clock but he is also racing the era. Champions don’t give up easily, not even against time. Coach Rameshon set the standing national marathon record of 2:24:22 at the 1995 SEA Games. Then, he was 31 years old.

ST: Running for Good! 

By Jed Senthil

First published on The Straits Times on 29 July 2017. 
 

 

Most people run to keep up with their own fitness, and be physically and mentally engaged. It is probably the most effective way to live a healthier life, as my fellow columnists – who are reputable athletes and medical professionals – have pointed out over the past weeks. 

Beyond personal good, what if I told you that you can run for other kinds of good too?

 

SOCIAL GOOD



In a previous article, National Marathoner Mok Ying Ren shared that one should run at a comfortable conversational pace. This is a good case in point – exercising with your running kaki at a comfortable pace allows you to catch up and spend the time meaningfully.

 

Being part of a running community gives strength in numbers to a sport which can feel ‘lonesome’ at times. For one, it allows you to share running tips with one another, join a network of like-minded individuals, inspire or be inspired, strengthen basic disciplines and habits, reach out to any resources that you might not have on your own, create self-development opportunities for others, and support both individual and collective endeavors. Most importantly, peer influence becomes a powerful tool to spur one another on to persevere.

 

That is why several running groups have sprung up in recent years, each with a unique value proposition that appeals to their followers. 

#RunONE, the training partner for the recently concluded Straits Times Run in the City 2017 (ST Run), is one example of an online running and training community that aims to reframe running as one with personal, social and altruistic benefits. 

Other running groups, like Running Department – the official pacers for ST Run – organize weekly group runs regularly, rain or shine. They have come a long way since its humble beginnings four years ago. As iron sharpens iron, today, these running groups form the core of an increasingly active collective of passionate runners.

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    The #RunONE community doing an easy run led by Mok Ying Ren (National Marathoner) during the ST Race Clinic on 08 July. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / STEVEN TEO
The #RunONE community doing an easy run led by Mok Ying Ren (National Marathoner) during the ST Race Clinic on 08 July. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / STEVEN TEO

 

ALTRUISTIC GOOD 

 

Other than running with others, you can also run for others. Some run for advocacy causes, others for charitable causes. In both cases, you can be part of a bigger vision and make a difference to the lives of those around us. Sometimes the output comes in the form of increased donations towards these causes, and other times, an additional convert to the cause. In either case, it reminds us to remember the poor and marginalized, and uphold benevolence. Essentially, these runs represent, on a broader level, the challenges these groups face and are working to overcome i.e. their own ‘marathon’ in life. Some of these runs include:

 

● The Straits Times Run in the City, supports The Straits Times Pocket Money Fund (SPMF). SPMF started in 2000 and has helped 150,000 students and youths with collections amounting up to S$55million. The funds disbursed through social service agencies supports our students from low income families and multiple-stressor backgrounds to enable them to make it to school and have something to eat. To all the 13,000 runners on 16 July: you have contributed to making their lives better!

Run & Raisin Charity Run, organized by Touch Community Services, aims to raise about S$250,000 for their Touch Young Arrows (TYA) activities and programmes. TYA provides weekly academic coaching through their dedicated volunteers, and aims to help children realize their potential.

Yellow Ribbon Prison Run & Unlabelled Run, both combat the stigma against and the challenges of former offenders. These runs allow participants to pledge their support towards creating second chances in our society. They also encourage us to be more empathetic towards the circumstances faced by ex-offenders and to learn from their resilience.

 

Photo credits: Photo from Touch Community Services website  www.touch.org.sg
Photo credits: Photo from Touch Community Services website http://www.touch.org.sg

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In more ways than one, our seemingly minute efforts can go the extra mile in improving the lives of others. Running can be an absolutely meaningful activity! The next time you sign up for a run, do also consider the social and altruistic impacts that you bring to yourself and the people around you.

 

Make a difference, ONE step at a time!

 

 

About the author: Jed Senthil is a former civil servant who have served professionally in the social and social enterprise sectors. The avid runner and youth advocate is also the co-founder of the #RunONE running community.