Moving for Mental Health
I am an indoor person. Exercise – and the outdoors really – are not my favorite things. I would go out for a run every so often, just to keep a certain level of fitness. But I would much rather run around a city in a video game, than do so for real.
That all got turned upside down last month. It all started when a friend sent this message into a group I was in:
I don’t like exercise. But like any gamer, I do like achievements (or trophies for PlayStation players). And this seemed like a good an achievement as any to work towards. At the very least it was a good excuse to try and be a bit more physically active than the sloth-like state that COVID had left me in. And so I committed myself to taking on the “50KM Nature Challenge”.
And boy, did I surprise myself.
There’s an interesting adage, “it always seems impossible until it’s not”.
A lot of things were suddenly becoming possible in February. I am not a complete stranger to going on runs. On-and-off over the last 2 years I’ve been running on a fairly frequent basis. But these runs would typically be no more than 2km at a time. And often I would “cheat”; half walking by the end of the run itself.
But during one of my first runs in February I just decided that I would go farther. Rather than run my pre-established 2km route, I would push for more. Taking a detour that opened up into a larger promenade along the water. I don’t know what spurred me on to run more. Perhaps it was curiosity. Or perhaps it was the calculation that if I only ran 2km every other day, I wouldn’t be able to hit my 50km goal for the month. Either way I ran further that time. And just kept running. I ended covering 5.3km, double my usual distance. And the next run after that I went for a full 6km.
And again, and again, and again. Running 6km on alternating days. I’ve managed to reach a point where I can now run that entire distance non-stop. And I’m now averaging 7 minutes/km.
And I feel great.
Back in high school, I joined my friends in running a “marathon”. I signed up to do the 7km with them. I didn’t so much run the marathon, as I did wheezing, walking, and barely finishing. For the rest of the day after that my feet hurt so much that I could barely stand. The level of personal fulfillment and satisfaction that I am getting coming from that, to running 6km every other day is indescribable.
The actual run itself has slowly become more enjoyable. And I now actually look forward to doing them on my run-days. As I go out for a run I start to project this mental image of an anime hero going out for training. Which is reinforced by the epic anime soundtrack that is now part of my running play list. And then once you finish, there is a gratifying endorphin-rush and sense of personal accomplishment. The wave of relief and relaxation that comes after the post-run shower and sit-down is a very nice cherry-on-top.
And it wouldn’t really be a nature challenge in Hong Kong if we didn’t sprinkle in some hikes. Intentional or not, I found myself roped into a lot more hiking excursions that I am typically used to. Going on a grand total of 3 hikes in 1 month. And this is coming from a track record of 1 hike every 3 months.
Over February my friends and I conquered:
- Suicide Cliff
- Lion Rock
- Dragon’s Back
In that chronological order. And – to my chagrin – starting with the most difficult, to the easiest.
Suicide Cliff. Don’t let the name fool you. Despite its moniker Suicide Cliff is quite safe. That’s not to say that I always felt safe during the entire way up. It was a climb to get to the top. I wouldn’t call this excursion a “hike” as much as I would call it outright rock climbing. It also didn’t help that going in, I had absolutely no idea that it would be this difficult.
But after an arduous climb we eventually did reach the top. And we were rewarded with a wonderful view over Hong Kong. And a reminder of just how much we managed to accomplish during our almost 5-hour, 10km climb.
With the benefit of hindsight it almost seems poetic that we conquer a trail named Suicide Cliff on a nature challenge advocating for mental health.
Lion’s Rock. I’ve trying to be more open to spur-of-the-moment suggestions from my friends. What fun is there to life if there aren’t a few surprises? This hike definitely qualified as a surprise. What was supposed to be a “hang out at their place, drink wine” visit suddenly got morphed into a 2-hour, 6km hike up to Lion’s Rock.
There was still wine, to be sure. But it came after the hike. And I think it was well-earned.
Dragon’s Back. After my two previous surprise-hikes I was intent on not being caught off-guard anymore. We organized this hike well in advance, and I specifically asked my friends to choose a path that wouldn’t be too difficult. They mercifully chose Dragon’s Back. One of the most, if not the most, popular treks in Hong Kong.
I went up with my friends from the Global Shapers Hong Kong hub , and we had a leisurely trek (3-hours, 6km) up to this stunning view.
Over the last month pursuing the 50km goal; across my hikes and runs, I managed to cover 101.17km.
I am not going to lie, I am personally very proud of myself for being able to accomplish this.
As to the idea that increased physical activity outside has positive benefits to your mental health and productivity; I totally buy into it. During this entire month I’ve felt mentally lighter. Energized to take on the day’s challenges without missing a beat. I even got the occasional jolt of inspiration as I was out on my runs. The majority of this post was even written immediately after one of my runs.
Beyond February, and even without the motivation of a “challenge” I am hoping to hold on this habit of being more physically active outside. My running and jumping won’t be confined to video games anymore.
I would highly encourage everyone to go outside, and move it!
With all of the running, hiking, and physical activity; this post had a working title of “My Friends Are Trying to Kill Me”. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?