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Up and Running mental health exercise group helps women beat depression and anxiety in Sevenoaks

A group of women are beating depression and anxiety with exercise.

Shona Campbell, a running coach, and Dr Harriet Heal, a clinical psychologist, created Up and Running, a running group for women with mental health problems, eight years ago.

Since starting, the two have helped dozens of women in 20 groups.

Novice runners are introduced to the sport gradually to build confidence
Novice runners are introduced to the sport gradually to build confidence

The group, for women aged 18 to 65, takes on a ten week running course which is designed for those who currently don’t run but want to find out if it can help their mental health.

Ms Campbell, said: “Harry and I were just talking, we used to run together and Harry, with her expertise in clinical psychology and me as a running coach, we just both had a strong feeling that there was a role for exercise in mental health and we just got talking and decided to set up a group.

Shona’s inspiration was not just through Harriet, because she had personal experience of mental health issues, creating the Up and Running group was a natural step.

Harriet Heal (left) and Shona Campbell (right) started Up and Running to help women with mental health issues
Harriet Heal (left) and Shona Campbell (right) started Up and Running to help women with mental health issues

“I didn’t actually start running because of my mental health, it was purely for physical reasons but having had a long history of depression and anxiety I definitely noticed when I started running, which was about 15 or 16 years ago, that my mental health improved in that it very much seems to help me manage the anxiety and help me lift my mood.

“Having had the personal experience of it making me feel better I really felt very strongly about passing that on to other people.”

“I started to see the same thing with women I coach, you can actually see them becoming more relaxed and confident, almost by running it off.”

“It’s a real awakening to your own capabilities sometimes.” - Harriet Heal

For women in the group, feeling physically stronger can also make them feel stronger mentally. 

"A lot of women are not terribly comfortable with their bodies and actually doing something physically challenging and learning to trust their bodies and learning their bodies can do something that's actually quite difficult I think is very empowering and can give them a real boost of self esteem," said Ms Campbell.

Each week, the group meets for a run at Knole Park, Sevenoaks where their running increases in intensity to slowly introduce women to the sport.

Dr Heal said: “People with depression are often the people who strive in life, who push themselves, and are critical and harsh on themselves and actually I think a part of what learning to run in gentle and gradual way with Shona teaching you how to do that helps people to understand that they can achieve things in more gentle ways and be really proud of themselves.

“I think it changes the way people relate to themselves which can be enormously helpful and it helps people to feel that they’re achieving something.

“It’s a real awakening to your own capabilities sometimes.”

Catriona Drury, a member of the running group, said: “I have had mental health issues for most of my life and it looked like a really good way to get out, meet people, and a bit of exercise as well.

The group regularly runs in the peaceful Knole Park in Sevenoaks
The group regularly runs in the peaceful Knole Park in Sevenoaks

“It’s given me another tool to make myself better, to get out and run when I’m feeling down I can just get my trainers on and go, it doesn’t cost me anything.

“The ladies that run the group Shona and Harry, they’re really helpful they’ve been really good support helping us all get back on our feet.

“It’s really nice to be with like-minded people suffering with the same things, so you can talk about it whereas maybe some other people might not understand whereas the group do understand. 


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