At the height of the pandemic, the unexpected happened to the city of New York. Known as the big city with bright lights that never sleeps – it took a pretty lengthy snooze. The streets became vacant due to stay-at-home orders, big businesses were boarded up, and smaller ones were unable to operate. Even in attractions notoriously packed with people, like Times Square and Soho. The energizing feel of NYC turned dull and groggy. The solution to New Yorker’s declining mental health came unexpectedly, through running.
A global pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment rates, and amplified social justice issues were wreaking havoc on our collective mental state. The gyms closed along with any other places to gather. If being at home all day didn’t make you want some fresh air, the ‘pandemic 15’ did. New Yorkers are resourceful; when put in a pinch, someone will find a way out. And running was just that. An outlet that started as an exercise to end isolation soon became a stress reliever.
Since the city is heavily populated and often criticized for its lack of space, people felt suffocated. Running gave New Yorkers a chance to breathe in the fresh air. Out in the great outdoors, the daily runs gave people something to look forward to. Those runs where your blood circulated and you received some extra oxygen, were mood boosters. Over time, regular runs produced a stable mood and reduced everyday anxiety.
Just like in the Nike Unexpected Run campaign, running even started to rebuild a sense of community. Going months without seeing your friends and family was tough. The social interaction we took for granted lowers feelings of depression and loneliness. But that’s where exercise challenges came in handy. To avoid that inactive lifestyle, everyone was pushing each other to get running. That’s when the exercise group chats were born. Friend groups began virtually comparing steps for the day or miles run. They even posted selfies on social media to check in from their running trail and meeting up in small groups. Running around New York, you began seeing many people working out and sweating with you, giving you a sense of belonging.
During the pandemic, running helped the overall health of New York City. The act of running is the most low-maintenance and full-body engaging workout. Moving your body improves not only your physical health but your mental health as well. Running reintroduced a routine for most people who rolled out of bed for work meetings and rolled back in once they were over. It gave purpose to those drowning in feelings of insignificance. It gave people a chance to feel a sliver of normalcy even amongst so much uncertainty—a familiar face, a familiar path, a familiar feeling of accomplishment once that run is over. Running helped restore the city and New Yorker’s mental health. At a time when we didn’t think we could do it, like Nike – we just did.
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