"I am Anoosheh Ashoori, a 69-year-old retired engineer. In August 2017, I was abducted in Tehran and endured nearly five years of captivity in the notorious Evin Prison. It was during this challenging time that I discovered the profound impact of running as a source of solace and strength. From that moment, my aspiration became to participate in the London Marathon once I regained my freedom.
"In March 2022, I was finally released and returned home to the UK. Since then, I have completed two London Marathons and two half marathons. Looking toward the future, I am resolutely determined to run my third London Marathon in April 2024, marking my 70th birthday and the third anniversary of my liberation from Evin Prison. I received a Spirit of the London Marathon Award in 2022."
How important is running/activity for your mental health?
"Regular running and physical activity have played a vital role in maintaining my good mental health. This has been true for nearly five years, both during my time in Evin Prison and now in the free world. Running has served as a powerful outlet for stress relief and emotional regulation, allowing me to channel negative emotions into positive physical exertion. It has been a source of solace and strength, helping me overcome challenges and maintain a sense of wellbeing. I am grateful for the positive impact running has had on my mental health."
Why is running/activity important for your mental health?
"Running or engaging in physical activity is crucial for maintaining good mental health. It provides numerous benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety, boosting mood and improving overall wellbeing. Regular exercise also promotes better sleep, increases self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Additionally, running or participating in activities, such as the Vitality London 10,000, offers a valuable opportunity for self-reflection. Prioritising physical activity can significantly contribute to a positive and balanced mental state."
What aspects of running/activity best support your mental health?
"Being outdoors allows for a change of environment, fresh air and exposure to nature, which reduces stress, enhances your mood and promotes relaxation. It offered me a healthy distraction from daily worries and negative thoughts, allowing for a sense of mindfulness and present-moment focus. Regular exercise also improves sleep quality, increases self-confidence and fosters a sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, the combination of these aspects contributes to reduced anxiety, improved mental resilience and overall enhanced mental health."
What do you most enjoy about running/activity?
"What I most enjoy about running/activity is the sense of liberation it brings, especially in contrast to the confinements of Evin Prison. Running became my escape – a way to reclaim my sanity amidst the turmoil. It provided a respite from the harsh realities, allowing me to focus on the present moment and find solace in the rhythm of my footsteps. Through running, I channelled my emotions, transforming anxiety and fear into determination and resilience. It gave me a sense of control over my own body and mind, helping me fight against the grip of insanity and maintain my mental wellbeing in the most challenging circumstances."
How many hours per week do you take part in physical activity?
"I engage in physical activity for approximately 12 hours per week (that is six days per week, for about two hours each day). This includes various forms of exercise such as running and strength training. I believe in maintaining a balanced approach to fitness, incorporating both cardiovascular exercises and strength-building workouts. Regular physical activity not only enhances my physical wellbeing but also contributes significantly to my mental health. It provides me with an outlet for stress, boosts my mood and improves my overall energy levels. By dedicating time each week to physical activity, I prioritise self-care and reap the numerous benefits for my body and mind."
What physical activity do you partake in apart from running?
"In addition to running, I engage in a diverse range of physical activities to ensure a comprehensive fitness regimen. These activities encompass various forms of strength training and occasionally incorporate yoga sessions. Strength training helps me build muscle – especially at my age as I am pushing 70 – increases my overall strength and improves my posture. Yoga allows me to enhance my flexibility, balance and mindfulness. By engaging in a diverse range of physical activities, I not only challenge my body in different ways but also prevent boredom and ensure that I target different muscle groups. This variety adds excitement and enjoyment to my fitness journey."
What one word would you use to describe how running/activity makes you feel? And how do you feel when you don’t run?
"When I don't run, I feel a sense of stagnation – running/activity empowers me both physically and mentally, so without it, I may experience a lack of drive and vitality. It's as if I am missing a key element that fuels my motivation and sense of accomplishment. It makes me feel empowered, strong and capable, allowing me to overcome challenges and boost my confidence. When I don't engage in running/activity, I may feel a sense of inertia, decreased energy and a longing for that empowering feeling that it brings to my life."
Have you encouraged others to run/take part in activities to aid their own mental well-being?
"I have actively encouraged others to embrace running and engage in physical activities for their mental wellbeing. Starting with my kids, we trained and crossed the Finish Line together at the 2023 TCS London Marathon as a family. Now, I continue to inspire more individuals to take up running and join our team. Through sharing my experiences and advocating for the transformative benefits of running, I aim to empower others to prioritise their mental wellbeing and embrace the joy of an active lifestyle."