MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

A COVID-19 Silver Lining? More Of Us Are Running For Our Mental Wellbeing

ASICS is an acronym from the Latin “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” or “a Sound Mind in a Sound Body.”  ASICS was founded over 70 years ago by Kihachiro Onitsuka – a man very much ahead of his time. He recognised the benefit of exercise and sport not just on the body, but on the mind and founded our company to bring hope to a nation in despair in post-war Japan.

Today, we remain focused on the benefit of sport beyond the body and on the mind. And never has that been more crucial than right now.

We know this pandemic is taking its toll on our mental wellbeing. The findings of recent research by Mind, show how the UK’s mental health has deteriorated during lockdown. The research identifies the key drivers of poorer mental health during the pandemic as not being able to see family, loneliness, not being able to go outside, concerns about the virus itself and boredom.

A potential silver lining

However, one of the positive things that has come out of this confinement is witnessing the many people that have taken up exercise and in particular, running.

We recently conducted research amongst 14,000 regular exercisers around the world to investigate running behaviours and mental health during lockdown. We found that 43% of UK respondents were actually exercising more during lockdown than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic began – despite most sports being brought to a standstill by social distancing measures.

And our own Runkeeper data backed this up. During April 2020, the app saw a 667% rise in registrations in the UK and a 105% increase in monthly active users compared to the same time last year. It also reported a 98% spike in the number of people in the UK heading out for a weekly run.

Running for our mental wellbeing

The research also showed that, for the majority of people, this activity surge was down to more than just physical health. During lockdown, exercise and running became a lifeline for many people to boost their mental wellbeing.

Two-thirds said exercise helps them cope mentally when faced with challenging situations like the one we are in now, while eight in ten runners said that being active makes them feel more sane and in control. A similar number said running is playing a key role in helping them clear their mind.

These findings show that for many people, a run has become much more than a run. It’s become a way for people to disconnect and reconnect, to put aside mental pressures and challenges and feel free.

Running past COVID-19

Encouragingly, nearly three-quarters of UK runners we interviewed said they want to continue running after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, while six in ten people are determined to hang on to the important role sport and movement is currently playing in their lives.

And keeping people moving is important, because the benefits of exercise and running on our mental wellbeing can be significant. While we know there is not a one size fits all approach to mental wellbeing, research does show that regular exercise can help to improve stress and anxiety.

As a brand that champions movement for mental wellbeing, our goal is to support people to keep running. And while running is one of the most inclusive sports on the planet, all runners, especially those just starting out, need some essential support and guidance to keep them motivated and injury-free. That’s what we are focused on right now.

Movement for Mind at ASICS

At ASICS, we care about body and mind and of course that extends to our own employees. In my role as head of HR, I’m keen to promote movement as a way for our people to build resilience and remain positive.

For example, because we believe exercise promotes positive mental wellbeing, our employees are free to workout, wherever and whenever they want to. And because we believe disconnecting from our desks reconnects our minds, we encourage people to switch off and get moving.

This recent research we conducted reinforces what we all instinctively know: physical activity makes us feel better and never has there been a more important time to become active and experience the mental health benefits from movement.

You can hear more from Melinda at this year’s Mad World Summit on 8 October where she will be chairing a VIP Green Room  – virtually of course. 

About the author

Melinda Brooks-Bray is a champion of movement for mental wellbeing. In her role as Vice President of Human Resources for the EMEA region, she ensures ASICS’ Sound Mind in a Sound Body philosophy is embedded within the ASICS business. She established a ‘Sound Mind Sound Body’ wellness programme at ASICS and is currently creating a new movement-based, workplace programme: ASICS Movement for Mind.

Melinda has held a number of HR leadership positions. Prior to joining ASICS, Melinda was Global Director Organisation Development at TomTom and preceding this, Talent Group Leader at the global consulting firm, Hewitt Associates. She has broad experience across a range of disciplines from change management, internal communications and employer branding to labour law compliance and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Melinda holds a Master’s degree in Psychology and Organisational Analysis from the University of Sydney, Australia.