A Prescription to Run: New ‘Run for It’ Program Educates Female Youth About Benefits of Aerobic Exercise on Mental Health

run for it

Canadian Guidelines Now Recommend Aerobic Exercise – Like Running – To Treat Mild To Moderate Depression

Mental health problems are on the risei, with one in five Canadians affected.ii More than three million Canadian youth 12 to 19 years of age are considered at high risk of developing depression,iii and females are at an ever greater risk.iv  The good news is there’s a way to help manage mental health issues that is accessible to everyone.  Canadian clinical guidelines now recognize aerobic exercise as a first line treatment for mild to moderate depression. Shoppers Drug Mart has teamed up with The Running Room, local police departments and high schools across Canada to educate female students about mental health and the benefits of physical activity through the Run for It program.

“Studies show exercise that raises your heart rate for at least 25 minutes can have the same effect on your brain as anti-depressant drugs,” says Dr. Valerie Taylor, Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. “The goal of the program is to empower young girls with the knowledge and training needed to take their mental wellness into their own hands.”

Run for It is a six week program available at select local high schools in fifteen cities across Canada.  It is a mental health education program that provides female high school students aged 12 to 19 with information and strategies for managing mental health while also incorporating training for a 5 km race.

“Shoppers Drug Mart has always been a proud champion of putting Women’s Health first,” says Lisa Gibbs, Director of Community Investment, Shoppers Drug Mart. “Our goal through this program is to boost confidence and help young women across Canada gain coping strategies to improve their mental wellness.”

In addition to the physical training, students are educated in mental health topics such as the prevalence of mental health illnesses, strategies to deal with mental health issues, ways to fight the stigma and the power of exercise in managing mental health.  Specifically, the topics include:

  • Week 1: Runners High = Brain Health
  • Week 2: Anxiety: Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
  • Week 3: Mental Health Issues are Normal
  • Week 4: Let’s Erase the Stigma
  • Week 5: Women’s Mental Health
  • Week 6: Social Media – Is it affecting your mental health?

At the end of the six weeks, the youth are ready to participate to participate in the SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run for Women in their city.  The SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run for Women is Canada’s first and only women’s and girls’ running race series.  Proceeds from each run benefit local women’s mental health initiatives. 

The Run For It mental health curriculum was developed by Dr. Valerie Taylor in partnership with mental health experts from across Canada.  The program’s run training was developed by John Stanton, Founder of Running Room.

“The solution to the growing concern on mental health requires total community collaboration and action,” says John Stanton. “Exercise, combined with clinical care, are both powerful and proven antidotes to assist a vast variety of mental health issues, most importantly the personal empowerment and support of the individual.”

The program was introduced in 2015 with the endorsement of the York Regional Police in Ontario.  In its first year (2015) the program involved three schools and 150 students. In 2016, it grew to 44 schools and 561 students across Unionville, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

This year marks the national launch of the program in fifteen cities to coincide with the SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run For Women, including: Unionville,Moncton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Kitchener –Waterloo, Edmonton, Oakville, Quebec City, Regina, Montreal, London, Toronto, Calgary, St. John’s.

For more information and to find out if the program is offered in your region, visit www.runforitprogram.ca.  To register for SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run for Women in your area, visit www.runforwomen.ca.

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