Health benefits of running as Bake Off star says he was prescribed it for depression

Michael Chakraverty, who participated in The Great British Bake Off in 2019, has said running 'saved his life'. (Getty Images)
Michael Chakraverty, who participated in The Great British Bake Off in 2019, has said running 'saved his life'. (Getty Images)

A former Bake Off star has credited running for "saving" him from depression.

Michael Chakraverty, 30, revealed that his doctor suggested he try taking up running to help treat his depression, which he'd suffered from for many years.

Writing in Metro, the writer and podcast host said he could understand why his doctor suggested the exercise, as recent research has shown the positive benefits that exercise, like running, has on mental health.

After a difficult start, Chakraverty said he was able to get into a running routine and now goes three times a week.

"I began to run weekly, slowly increasing the gaps between walking breaks until they no longer existed. I felt the changes in my brain just as much as in my body. No longer feeling numb and empty, I was being brought back to myself," he wrote.

"Running soon became a regular part of my life. Now, when I feel the fog of anxiety begin to settle in my mind or when depression threatens to pull me away from the world, I know I need to put in a few miles."

Last year, the Prince of Wales also revealed that he is a fan of running. Despite his hectic schedule while visiting New York for a week, he was able to sneak in an early morning run in Central Park without being detected.

Prince William, pictured at the Earthshot Summit, revealed he went running through Central Park in New York City. (Getty Images)
Prince William went running through Central Park in New York City. (Getty Images)

Prince William, 41, revealed his incognito jog at the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit at the Plaza Hotel. The royal was able to fly under the radar as he joined "the hordes of New Yorkers doing their morning routine".

"It was wonderful waking up in New York on a sunny morning rather than the rain we had yesterday," he told one of the previous winners of his Earthshot Prize. "It was beautiful getting some fresh air this morning."

What are the benefits of running?

Running is considered one of the easiest and most affordable ways to improve your fitness levels.

A young Black woman with an afro, wearing an orange tank top, goes on a run while wearing her smartphone in an armband and a smartwatch on her wrist
Running can help improve several aspects of life, including mental wellbeing. (Getty Images)

According to the NHS, going for a run or jog regularly can help by:

  • Improving heart health

  • Improving lung health

  • Increasing joint strength and stability

  • Reducing the risk of chronic illnesses

Some studies have shown that running also has the potential to help improve mental wellbeing. Sports brand Asics surveyed 14,000 people and found that 82% of British runners say the activity helps to clear their mind, while 78% felt more in control of their lives because of running.

Running can also be an inexpensive sport, as you do not require a gym membership or costly equipment to get going. All you need is a pair of running shoes and the outdoors.

Aside from physical health, running has also been associated with improved mental health. A 2020 review of 47 studies that had been conducted on running found that 16 studies reported runners as having lower depression and anxiety, lower stress, higher psychological wellbeing and better mood compared to people who did not run.

Running, just like other forms of exercise, activates the body's release of serotonin and dopamine, sometimes called 'feel-good hormones' that promote feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

These can help boost our moods and improve mental health, leading to better overall wellbeing.

How popular is running?

Running is an immensely popular sport at all levels, from beginners to professional athletes. Figures from Statista estimate that, in 2021, around 6.3 million people participated in running in England.

How can I get started with running?

Many people kickstart their running with the popular Couch to 5K app, which is a free running plan for beginners provided by the Office for Health improvement and Disparities in partnership with the BBC.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the free app has been downloaded 6.5 million times since it launched in 2016. Last year, it helped people complete 6.46 million runs.

Running or jogging communities, such as Parkrun, can also help motivate you on your running journey. Exercising with other people fosters a sense of community and many people encourage one another to keep going.

Runners taking part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London
Joining running and jogging communities like Parkrun can help motivate you on your running journey. (Getty Images)

The NHS recommends starting each run with gentle warm-up exercises for about five minutes, including:

  • Walking

  • Marching on the spot

  • Knee lifts

  • Side-stepping

  • Climbing stairs

How do I stay motivated to keep running?

Anika Kainth, musculoskeletal physiotherapist at insurance company Bupa, advises beginners not to attempt a big run from the get-go. Instead, start small and give your body time to adapt to the new activity, which will also minimise the risk of injury.

Setting realistic goals and keeping track of your progress will also help you stay motivated as you continue to improve your running and your health. You can do this by downloading a running app, like Couch to 5k or Nike’s running app.

"Whether you use an app or follow your own programme, it's really satisfying to watch your running progress,” Kainth said in her Bupa blog post. "Whenever your motivation is flagging, look back and see how much you’ve improved in terms of time, distance, or speed.

"Maybe your first goal is to make it to the end of the street, or to the next lamppost. Whatever your goal is when you go for a run, celebrate those small wins."

Read more about running: