Jog On by Bella Mackie

In the last couple of years I have started running regularly again, after a break of several years. Back in the world of secondary school stereotypes, I was an unlikely candidate to be relatively good at cross country: I was quiet, shy, in every music group I could manage, and more at home with fictional worlds than the real one. Yet I could maintain a steady pace and, more to the point, I enjoyed running. I stopped running regularly in my second year of university, dropping out of the university running club under the illusion that I would continue to run even when I didn’t have others to motivate me. It would take most of my twenties to actually motivate myself to start running again by which time a lot had changed in the world of running, not the least of which is the awareness of the benefits of exercise on mental health, which stories like Bella Mackie’s reinforce.

In ten chapters, Mackie takes the reader on her journey through a painful break-up whilst she continued to struggle with severe mental health issues by showing the role that running played in giving her a tool to cope with all that was going on. The chapters slowly build up a picture of Mackie’s story and the overall connection between running and mental health, with the titles and themes of each chapter mirroring the next stage in Mackie’s journey and thought process. Some chapters focus mainly on Mackie’s story, whilst others include more statistics and studies, but each begins with a short, diary-style entry in which Mackie notes down her running progress.

Mackie is very clear that running is not the only answer to continuing mental health problems, making sure to thank her therapist several times, mentioning medication, and sharing stories of those who have found other tools to help them. However, the studies and articles she quotes and refers to throughout the book make it clear that there is a strong link between regular running and improved mental health. In Mackie’s life, it gave her the freedom to start pushing the boundaries her anxiety had imposed on her, giving her something else to focus on.

As someone who doesn’t read non-fiction books particularly frequently, it was Mackie’s writing as she told her story that kept me engaged throughout Jog On. The chapters which were more focussed on sharing studies and statistics found me definitely a little less engaged than the chapters which focussed more on Mackie’s own story, which she shares honestly, with the tone of someone sharing a confidence with a friend. There are moments that are funny, moments that are sad, moments that will have others saying ‘me too’, and Mackie moves with ease from one to the other sentence by sentence.

I read Jog On because I love running, but I suspect this would be an important read for anyone wanting to find out more about the link between exercise and mental health. Running may not be your preferred method of exercise, but Mackie’s story and research is still important in helping the reader think through the tools they have available to them in order to manage their thoughts and emotions when life becomes hard. I enjoyed reading this and would definitely recommend it to others.

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