DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Delaware –
Let me start this commentary with a bit of honesty – last year, if you had told me I’d be writing an article about how running and fitness have changed my mental health significantly, I probably would have laughed. However, that’s exactly what has happened.
As the Unit Fitness Program Monitor at Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations, my job is to ensure that our Airmen maintain their physical health to meet the standards of the Air Force. When I took on this role last year, I didn’t really understand how important health and fitness were to my well-being. My health and fitness goals were to pass my PT test and occasionally go running – that was it.
Things changed earlier this year when I started training for a half marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia, this past March. It wasn’t my first distance run, but I wanted it to be my best distance run. As I trained I felt good – but not great. My body felt capable but not strong. What’s more, I didn’t really notice any changes in my overall health or my appearance. By the end of January, I became frustrated and despondent at my progress and my body. So on Feb. 1, after conducting thorough research to determine what would be best for my body, I started a new health and fitness regimen. Did I want to lose weight? Absolutely, but the goal was not necessarily just to look good – I wanted to feel great.
I made progress in my health and fitness journey – and did in fact achieve my goal of a half marathon in under 150 minutes! I realized that the changes I felt weren’t just in my body but also in my mind. I began to sleep better, handle stress better and feel more positive in my day-to-day life. I was able to recover from “bad days” with ease, and the good days began to feel like great ones. In time, I didn’t see running or working out as a chore – I saw it as a necessary and wonderful part of my day.
The National Institute of Health recognizes that aerobic activity has been proven to help reduce anxiety and depression in adults, and as someone whose mental health journey has had its ups and downs, I know how true that is. Our mission at AFMAO can take a toll on our mental wellness, so by adding blocks to my pillar of physical fitness, I’m helping my mental fitness too. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I look in the mirror and like and appreciate my body not just for its appearance, but for its strength and abilities as well. And yes, the “runner’s high” is real, and I have it.
As I train for my next half marathon this fall and spend plenty of time at the fitness center working on my strength and endurance, I take time to appreciate my amazing and strong body, and what it can do. I hope to foster that mindset among my wingmen as they work on their own fitness goals. Whether you’re preparing for your next Physical Fitness Test, or working toward a health goal of your own, I invite you to recognize how great a workout can make you feel and what your physical health does for your mental health.