6 reasons to take part in the RED January challenge

·5-min read

The new year brings new goals and, for many of us, these goals involve gains in fitness. Whether it’s aiming to successfully complete your first ever parkrun or targeting a new marathon PB, all of them provide motivation that will get you out of the door on the darkest, coldest days.

RED January is a challenge that's all about getting yourself moving throughout the entire month of January with the goal of improving your mental health. After all, January hasn’t gained a reputation for being the toughest, most gruelling month of the year for no reason. The combination of frosty weather fronts, lack of sunlight and dwindling post-Christmas finances combined with current Covid-based concerns means many people can suffer from increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The RED January challenge was designed to help you battle those negative thoughts by getting you moving every day of the month.

The initiative was launched in 2016 by Hannah Beecham, who saw first-hand how getting out and doing exercise every day helped her mother’s severe depression. It ended up transforming the way her mum managed her mental health, which in turn inspired Beecham to start RED January with the aim of getting people moving daily – not just for January but for longer-term.

'My aim was to reach and empower more people to move for their mental health during the winter, a time of year where inactivity and motivation levels are currently at their lowest in the UK,' Beecham told Runner’s World.

So if you’re looking for a goal for 2022, it’s not too late to sign up to the free challenge, even if January has already started. Here are six reasons to sign up:

1. You’ll be part of a wider online community

Thanks to social media, one of the main benefits of taking part in RED January is the support of more than 200,000 other ‘REDers’, who encourage and motivate each other via photos, comments and updates on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Not only that, RED Together aims to help REDers continue their daily movement once January is over by continuing to support each other as they keep exercising throughout the year.

'The RED community is at the heart of RED January,' says Beecham. 'We all come together with a common goal of moving each day. On those days that taking a step forward feels overwhelming, people can feel safe in the knowledge that thousands of people around the country are with them every step of the way.'

2. It boosts your motivation and self-esteem

On the RED January website you can download your own RED January calendar, which provides you with a visual representation of your progress by letting you tick off every day that you are active throughout the month.

And by wearing red you’ll feel part of a team that’s tackling daily physical and mental challenges. You can even pick up RED training gear at Decathlon, including a snood, T-shirt and kids’ T-shirt.

Beecham says that the responses they receive year on year always include the fact that people feel a sense of improved self-esteem at the end of January. 'Participants then take this improved self-esteem into other areas in their life, whether that’s signing up to something they didn’t have the confidence to do beforehand or putting themselves forward for something at work. It’s always heart-warming to see RED participants continue the habits they formed during January and set new goals throughout the year.'

3. It helps beat the winter blues

January is a time when seasonal affective disorder can often be at its peak for sufferers. Getting outside into the sunshine and the serotonin boost it provides has been shown to help improve the negative effects of SAD. Other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are also amplified during the first month of the year following festive overconsumption, low energy levels, insomnia, fatigue and irritability. As a result, many people find January the most difficult, and seemingly never-ending, 31 days of the year.

This is where RED January can help – a 2006 study by the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that that moderate exercise of 30 minutes a day three times a week improves symptoms of depression, and another study by King’s College found that just one hour of exercise a week can help prevent depression.

'Research from the University of Oxford also shows that RED participants who reported moving more during January also experienced positive changes in depressive symptoms and in feelings of anxiety,' adds Beecham.

4. You can raise money for charity

Not only does 100% of sales of the official RED January merchandise go to the mental health sports charity Sport in Mind, but you can also donate via the official RED January website, or get sponsored to complete the challenge and then donate it to Sport in Mind. This year’s target is to raise £400k, so every donation helps.

5. You have access to free inspirational webinars

To help provide inspiration as well as practical advice, RED January has put together a diverse range of webinars in collaboration with Happiful. Subjects include movement and the menopause and how we move in relation to self-care.

6. It gets you trying new sports

It’s not just about running – when it comes to movement, RED January encourages you to try different sports and different ways of moving. A quick scroll of the challenge’s Instagram feed reveals people taking part in canoeing, CaniCross, gardening, outdoor swimming, bouldering, walking, football and boxing. You never know, you might even find a new sport you have a passion for.

It’s never too late to form a healthy habit. You can still sign up for free at redtogether.co.uk

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