Girls react to the starting gun at the "Girls on the Run" 5K event, which took place at
Eastern Michigan University's Rynearson Stadium May 22, 2011.
Between 2,700 and 3,000 runners participated in the race.
With the UK hosting the Olympics this year, it’s no wonder that sports are heavily in focus again; in fact, we’ve already talked about the lack of female role models in sport this year. Exercise is extremely important to our health, and events such as the Olympics can have an important affect on encouraging everyone, especially the young, to exercise more. But one element of sport that isn’t discussed as frequently as the physical health benefits are the mental health benefits. It’s a subject close to my heart as last September I ran my first half-marathon after a lifetime of being an avid non-runner. Obviously I have seen physical changes in my body and fitness levels but for me the biggest change has been a mental one. Any runner will tell you that the biggest hurdle is just stepping out the front door, let alone actually running anywhere! Running has given me greater mental discipline and changed the way I feel about my body. I used to hate my legs but now I love them, not because they look good but because I know they can run for 13 miles without stopping. They are the source of my strength.
If running can have this effect on a 26 year old, imagine how it could help younger girls, who are perhaps even more vulnerable to body issues! Girls on the Run is a preventative program in the US that uses running to encourage pre-teen girls to develop self-respect and a healthy lifestyle. It combines training for a non-competitive 5km run with lessons that teach girls how to celebrate their inner selves. Sport is celebrated for promoting team work, but it can also have a profound effect on how we relate to ourselves; Girls on the Run strives to combine both elements to improve girls’ self-esteem.
We often focus on exercise as a way to look good, and whilst that is a factor in why exercise is so beneficial, it’s not the only reason. I hope that through events such as the Olympics and programs such as Girls on the Run, more girls can learn to love their bodies not because they look good, or conform to particular standards, but because they are a source of strength and self-respect.
Girl Museum Inc.