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Local women's group ready to get back Up and Running (or walking) for mental and physical health

Online survey seeks input on needs and perspectives
20210708 Donna Howard submitted
Donna Howard, executive director at Up and Running Guelph.

Physical activity, nature and social connections are a perfect combination for both the brain and body during the pandemic.

With restrictions easing, Up and Running Guelph is ready to head outdoors again with a new summer program.

Since 2016, Up and Running Guelph has offered friendly and supportive running and walking programs for women looking to improve their mental health and emotional well-being. 

This summer, the registered charitable organization is ready to help boost mind, body and mood for women who are ready to head outside and get started.

“It’s terrific especially after everything we’ve been through. It’s been over a year and a half living with precautions. People are ready to get out there and be active in nature,” said Donna Howard, executive director at Up and Running Guelph.

“And for some women, it’s still a time of adjustment. They can come and just take their time. It’s about being in nature, being with others, and you can take it at your own pace.”

Beginning in early August, Up and Running Guelph will offer morning and evening walking programs until Sept. 9.

“It’s so great to finally connect with everyone. The five-week program will then roll into the fall with daytime and evening programs where we will offer running and walking,” Howard explained.

Up and Running Guelph offers eight-week morning and evening sessions which include running and walking programs in spring, fall and winter.

And this summer, the group is excited to bring everyone together again, to reconnect and welcome new faces.

“There are three important pieces. Being in nature, which is so important, and there are so many benefits. It’s also about being physically active. We try to meet different physical levels from beginners to intermediate,” Howard said.

“And the last important piece for us is social connectiveness. This is the big piece. Nothing is formatted. You don’t feel like you must contribute. You just come out at your own pace. You can have a conversation or you can just take the time to think on your own.”

Howard began her new role as executive director at Up and Running Guelph in May.

“It’s such a wonderful group of people. I jumped in right away,” she said.

“I’ve always been physically active and worked in public health promoting physical fitness. It’s been such a hard time for many people. My daughter was feeling sad too. But one thing that got us through it, was having daily walks together. It got us out of the house, and we got some physical activity. Sometimes we would talk and sometimes we would just be silent.”

Programs at Up and Running Guelph are designed for women who are experiencing mental health issues such as mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

“When I saw this job, I just thought, wow! I have a family member going through these tough times and it’s being active and being outside that helped,” Howard said.

Up and Running Guelph provides a low-cost tool for managing mental health while gaining the mental health benefits of exercise, nature and social connections.

“Things are ramping up. Operationally and strategically it’s a good start. There are plans to expand. We just received some funding which allowed some hiring to happen. We have a student doing marketing and social media and she’s learning a lot. It’s so nice to have that young perspective. We would love to expand and grow,” Howard said.

“We are so thankful for our volunteers. They are so supportive and have so much lived experience as well.”

The organization is always looking for new volunteers to take part. Training is provided.

And currently, Up and Running Guelph is also asking for community input.

People are invited to fill out an assessment survey so the organization can learn more about individual needs and perspectives.

Anyone aged 18 and over living in Guelph, Puslinch, Guelph/Eramosa, Erin and Centre Wellington are eligible to complete the survey online at

Howard said anyone who completes the survey can enter a prize draw for a $25 gift card.

“The information that we collect will help us to ensure that we are serving our community to the best of our ability,” Howard said.

“At Up and Running Guelph, diversity is so important. We want everyone to know that we are open to everybody. It’s such an open and accepting program with such supportive volunteers. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”

Up and Running Guelph has a focus on building community and improving mental health through programs designed to feel like “a walk with friends”. 

“We are intrinsically human, and we love to have connection,” Howard said.

“We’ve had that taken away from us this last little while.”

For anyone interested in volunteering at Up and Running, visit

For more information and to register for Up and Running programs, email