With all the hype surrounding childhood obesity, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that physical activity helps more than just the body; it helps the mind stay limber and healthy, too.
My own gremlins set up shop when I was a teenager. Nobody has an easy time of it in adolescence, but for some of us routine moodiness goes one step uglier and becomes full-blown depression and anxiety.
The trouble is, people half expect teens to go around moping and wearing black every day. It's almost expected, par for the course. It took my own parents a while to notice anything was truly amiss. After all, I wrote a lot of very bleak poetry (typical) and spent a lot of time holed up in my room listening to the Cure and Morrissey (again, pretty typical). Fortunately I didn't cut myself, though I did shave all of my hair off one particularly low day. That was enough of a wake up call for the parents of any teenage girl!
I was on and off antidepressants for years. But always, I loved dancing, the release that came from really letting loose in a nightclub with friends. Stone-cold sober. What I didn't realize then was how moving was a form of therapy in and of itself. Dancing was as good as what came in any little white pill. I only wish the good doctors I saw back then had prescribed a gym membership on that Rx pad.
And I wasn't alone. According to an article in Science Daily, a recent study of 7,000 Dutch students between 11 to 16 years old has highlighted the crucial link between exercise and mental health. The physically inactive kids reported greater internal (depression and anxiety) and external (aggression, substance abuse) problems, while those who participated in organized sports held the lowest risk of psychosocial issues.
No shit, you're probably thinking. But it has taken a long time for science to corroborate what a lot of depressives learned the hard way: that teens need daily exercise for mental health.
I know now that though I may bitch and moan beforehand, I NEED that run. Even if I'm not in the mood, I know that Zumba class will make me feel better afterwards. These days fitness is about much more than getting rid of post-baby flab; it's about keeping my mind in good shape.