Run, swim, cook: the new prescription for happiness

As three new books show, keeping active can be great for mental health. But government has a role to play as well

When Ella Risbridger was at her lowest ebb, sitting with a psychiatrist trying to explain why she had wanted to throw herself under a bus, help came from a wholly unexpected source. Her mind was “looking for a puzzle” to occupy itself, as she put it, something to take her outside the horrible thoughts she was having. And it settled, most unexpectedly, on baking.

She came home from hospital and made a pie, and from then on cooking became a sort of comfort and salvation. For her, the rhythmic and predictable act of making meals became a self-soothing ritual, a way not so much of curing her chronic anxiety as living through it. Even the recipe that provided the title of her wholly unconventional cookbook, Midnight Chicken, came from an afternoon spent lying on the floor wondering if she would ever be able to get up.

For Bella Mackie, the answer was running. One foot in front of the other, settling into a rhythm, pounding pavements to keep the dark feelings at bay. Her memoir Jog On, half love letter to running and half explanation of what it’s like to suffer from anxiety, appeared on the new year bestseller charts almost the minute it was released.  more

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