Stop Saying Should: Exercise and Recovery
When going through a particularly difficult time in life, no one wants to hear the advice “You should exercise.”
We’ve all heard that exercise releases endorphins that give pleasant feelings known as “a natural high.” We know that exercise not only makes bodies stronger, but that it’s also mood-boosting and improves our outlook on life. We know these things, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the motivation to exercise.
We all know we should exercise, but those in recovery are already hearing a lot of “shoulds” about healthier life choices. If you’re in recovery, exercise can feel like one more area of life to fail at, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are some ways you can change your mentality about exercise:
Take should out of your vocabulary
Many of us have been taught that exercise is something we should do. We were brought up to think that the main purpose of exercise is to lose weight, tone flabbiness—basically fix any imperfections. Many of us exercise because we hate our bodies or aspects of them. What if, instead, we viewed exercise as a gift to ourselves because we love ourselves? What if we believed we had worth, so our bodies deserved the best care?
“Treat yourself the way you would treat a small child. Feed yourself healthy food and make sure you spend time outside. Put yourself to bed early. Let yourself take naps. Don’t say mean things to yourself. Don’t put yourself in danger. (Your skull and your heart are still as fragile as eggshells.)” –Anonymous
This quote is a reminder to give ourselves grace, remember that we are humans with limitations, and that we have needs. One of those needs is to move and feel good in our own bodies. Moving muscles, feeling the blood pumping through veins, and feeling an increase in heart rate and endorphins is a gift. It’s a gift that not all people are well enough to enjoy. If you are able-bodied, exercise can be a joy, not a chore.
Do activities you enjoy
I personally hate running. If I tried to run daily, I would last maybe a week. But I love swimming. Swimming I associate with my childhood when my mother and I would bond by going to the local pool in summer and do laps. To me, swimming doesn’t fill like a chore that I should do. It feels like a treat that I get to have fun doing. For you, maybe you love running. Or maybe there’s a different exercise that you enjoy: hiking, weight-lifting, or dance.
If you find an activity that you enjoy, you’ll exercise more regularly, and the exercise will be something that feels like a treat that you look forward to, instead of another task that you dread.
Here are some popular exercise ideas along with why they are good exercises while in recovery. Maybe there’s an exercise on the list that appeals to you, maybe not. But hopefully the list will encourage you to find your own exercise routine that gives you life and joy.
Some people dismiss walking as not as serious as, say, running or cycling. But there are tons of health benefits to walking. A few reasons are given at Harvard Health. Besides health benefits, studies have shown that walking has a plethora of other benefits, such as boosting creativity, staving off dementia, and even reducing a sweet tooth. Plus, walking takes us out into nature, which is also good for the soul and depression.
The great thing about walking is that it can be done basically anywhere and can be worked into most people’s lifestyles, regardless of age or life situation. Just taking a fifteen minute walk during a lunch break or in the evenings is an easy way to improve your health.
Yoga is a double whammy for those in recovery because it is a form of meditation as well as form of exercise. Yoga reconnects the mind with the spirit—an important aspect of recovery for those who use substances to feel removed from the body and present circumstances. Yoga retrains the body to be present.
Yoga also reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Since many people turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with stress, yoga can reduce stress and thus reduce the desire to turn to a substance.
Yoga Journal gives more health benefits of yoga for those in recovery, as well as lists specific poses (with diagrams) that can be useful in recovery.
Swimming burns more calories than jogging and uses muscles in all parts of the body while being gentler on joints than other cardiovascular exercises. The benefits of swimming go on and on.
Water has a calming effect. Like yoga, that repetition of strokes has a sort of meditative nature. Basically, swimming is a healing exercise that also builds strength and is great for those in recovery.
At Victory Addiction Recovery Center, the physicians and licensed counselors believe in a holistic approach to recovery—meaning that they treat the body as well as the mind. If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, Victory can help you implement healthier steps towards recovery, including an exercise regimen that works for you.
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