General fitness is an excellent goal in and of itself. However, a healthy weight, a strong cardiovascular system, and strong bones and muscles are not the only benefits of an exercise regiment.
Physical fitness also leads to mental fitness. In the U.S., around 19% of adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness in a given year, and around 4% will be severely limited in one or more life activities by a mental illness. Around 21% of youth 13 - 18 will be diagnosed with a mental illness within those six years (source: Mental Health by the Numbers, NAMI).
The other day, I published a post on my other blog about my struggles and successes with bipolar. Besides bipolar, I've also have a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, and at times these illnesses have greatly reduced my ability to function. I have, however, maintained a reasonably normal life, and besides amazing support from family and friends, physical fitness has played a huge role in managing and preventing symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, taking care of your physical needs is a major part of treating and preventing mental illness. Healthy eating, good sleep, and physical activity can help to both avoid mental illness and mitigate the symptoms.
Physical fitness, specifically running, has been a huge help in limiting symptoms of my bipolar. The high energy that accompanies mania and hypomania can be avoided or reduced by burning off energy through vigorous running and strength training.
The depressive cycles can also be managed and prevented. Running can release endocannabinoids into the brain, bringing on a feeling of well-being. The lack of motivation that often accompanies depression can also be improved by running. It's sometimes hard to get out the door for a run--especially when I'm feeling depressed. However, I usually notice an improvement in my mood and motivation following a run.
You don't have to suffer from a mental illness to reap the benefits of exercise. Exercise can also help manage stress, improve mood, and prevent the occurrence of mental illness. So, besides being physically healthy, exercise can also help you be mentally healthy.