It’s hard not to feel pangs of jealousy when casting your eye over celebrities’ seemingly glamorous lifestyles, writes Neil Turner. Being in the spotlight, however, comes with its own stresses. And, increasingly, famous people are taking to running to help deal with these stresses.
One of the most prominent advocates of running for mental health is snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan. Though better known these days for his skills with a cue, O’Sullivan’s first love was actually running. In 2012, Ronnie decided to give up snooker and rekindle this love. It was to prove a life-changing decision. The 39-year-old has spoken candidly about his struggle with depression and addiction in the past. Running not only helped him become more mentally stable, it had a positive impact when he returned to snooker.
He explained: “Running is what helped me to fight my demons, win five world snooker championships and cope with all the crap that life has thrown at me. My running trainers are the most important things I own.”
What the spin-doctor ordered
Experiencing a completely different type of stress, Alastair Campbell has used running to cope with depression and deal with the pressure cooker environment of UK politics. The former advisor to Tony Blair was diagnosed with clinical depression in the mid-80s following a mental breakdown. He is now adamant running has helped transform his life and cope with the condition.
Campbell explained: “Regular exercise has been very important for me for managing depression. No doubt about it. I think runners will all identify with the feeling you sometimes get where you suddenly realise you’ve done a couple of miles and you almost haven’t got a clue where your mind has been because your mind’s taken off.
“If I’m feeling a bit down, I sometimes decide to run to the next lamp post and then the next car, you can do these mental exercises. I hope that those GPs that don’t recommend exercise to people do start to do so.”
Of course, running to improve your mental health is not exclusively for those with depression. There are plenty of notable figures who, though not having the condition, use running for this reason.
Actor and comedian Will Ferrell is one such figure. Ferrell maintains that running helps get his creative juices flowing. The Anchorman star has completed three marathons and runs 4–6 miles every other day. He spoke about his love for the activity and why he never listens to music during runs: “Whenever I run, I get these great ideas. I learned from working out with Gary Kobat (a Los Angeles–based trainer) to run without headphones and music so I could focus and get into my thoughts. I love what running does for your mind and the great release you get from it.”
Running in public may not appeal to all celebrities, especially those keen to avoid the gaze of the paparazzi. Which brings us to the likes of Hollywood actress Renée Zellweger who, instead of pounding pavements, runs on a treadmill in her house. She takes a different tact to Ferrell – rather than letting her mind wander she catches up with current affairs by watching CNN. She explains: “It’s my down time. It’s my outlet, my therapy.”
Describing the activity as ‘therapy’ is common among runners. It’s important to reiterate that it is by no means a substitute for professional help. Famous or not, however, running’s therapeutic qualities cannot be denied.