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Jon Neal: My RED January experience

As Jon Neal, the Chief Executive of Suffolk Mind gets ready for RED January 2019, he reflects on his experience last year.

When I first heard about RED January I thought it sounded like an interesting way to raise money for Suffolk Mind through a bit of sponsorship activity.

I hadn’t taken part in any meaningful physical activity (running around after my kids aside) since playing badminton in my early thirties…occasionally. And before then, not since doing PE at school…which I dropped in my options aged 14.

So I wasn’t exactly the fittest person around.

I had to do it, though. Mostly because I said I would in a meeting at work and everyone said “yes you should” and basically it all snowballed from there. But also because I was curious to find out whether it would really impact on my mental health at all. We talk about exercise releasing endorphins and burning off cortisol, but would it really make a difference?

I also wanted to do it because I’d been meaning to do something to get a little fitter. And this was a perfect excuse.

So I signed up and had the idea of recruiting ‘celebrity’ guest runners to join me each day as I run (slowly) and film us with a selfie stick talking about mental health, exercise, and whatever else might come up.

Day One I went to a park run. I didn’t do a lot of research, but did find out about getting registered and printing out a bar code and all that…but what I didn’t look at was the length.

I thought it was a couple of times round the recreational field near where I live in Kesgrave. It was twice round the field, but then a whole load more as we were directed down a bridle path, then back up it, over the field again, through the woods, back round and finally, 5 kilometres later, the finish line.

Needless to say, I walked nearly all of it.

But I ran every day, more like 500m most days and sometimes even less than that (well, it’s cold in January!), but what I thought a park run every Saturday would be a good way to see how much fitter I was getting. If at all.

And sure enough, by the last park run I did, which was actually in February, I was able to run the whole thing without stopping to walk. I took ages, and was still nearly last, but the feeling of achievement, just four weeks after struggling around the course so much, was amazing.

Over the month of January I lost a stone in weight, without changing what I ate and drank, and my mental health was indeed better. I was sleeping better, I felt I had more energy and I was definitely more animated and felt happier than I usually do when it’s so dark and the weather is so awful.

So if you’re thinking about signing up, just do it. You don’t need to run. And whatever form of exercise you choose, you don’t have to do loads of it. Just do something every day that’s a little bit more than usual. You never know what you might achieve.


Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 10th December 2018

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