Running strong: Decades of running keep Mary Woodruff young at heart

January 20, 2014

SpeakingofHealth_Woodruff_01“I look at life like a wheelbarrow,” says Mary Woodruff. “If you put the wheelbarrow down, it won’t go anywhere. You have to keep pushing.”

And that’s just what Woodruff, a 63-year-old Waycross resident, has done most of her life.

By the time she was in high school, Woodruff had decided to become a physical education teacher. She taught for nearly four decades, inspiring generations of young people to get moving.

During many of those years, Woodruff was also raising her own children. But the busy working mom still found time to run, exercising almost daily and competing in marathons, half-marathons and shorter races.

“I always plan my day around exercise,” she says. “When the kids were young, we’d head to the YMCA after work. I’d put them in after-school activities at the Y and then go for a run.”

Other times, she would take her kids — and their bikes — to a high school track.

“They’d ride, I’d run,” says Woodruff, who says she laces up her shoes for both the physical and mental returns.

SpeakingofHealth_Woodruff_02“I come from a long line of squatty bodies, and running really helps with weight management,” she says. “It also helps get the cobwebs out of your head and is a great stress reliever. Running is my therapy.”

Ulas Camsari, M.D., a psychiatrist in Waycross, says there’s no doubt exercise can help manage moods.

“There’s evidence that physical exercise improves depression and anxiety symptoms,” says Dr. Camsari. “Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. Even just 30 minutes of exercise at least three days a week can significantly improve depressive symptoms.”

Research has shown other mental benefits as well.

“Exercise has a positive effect on learning and cognitive functions,” says Dr. Camsari. “And regular exercise has been shown to improve memory in both animal and human studies.”

Woodruff has some advice for anyone who’d like to reap the benefits of exercise but isn’t sure how to start.

“Buy a good pair of shoes, take it slow, and remember that habits are first cobwebs, then cables,” she says. “When you first start a new activity, it’s fragile, like a cobweb. But as it becomes a habit, it gets much stronger, like a cable. The first steps out the door are often the hardest.”

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