March 30, 2018

What Kind of Exercise Should I Be Doing to Help My Recovery?

Written by Alex Thompson

By Travis WeisbrodACE Personal Trainer

Those of us in recovery know how hard the first few weeks or months can feel. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, boredom, and lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning tend to plague us more than ever before. For most of us, the desire to feel comfortable and at ease alludes us during this pivotal time of our sobriety. For many, this stress and discomfort can cause us to crave our drug of choice, act out emotionally and physically, to overeat, or worst of all to relapse.

We know that going to 12-Step meetings, working with others, processing thoughts and feelings with professionals and groups, and doing step work are┬ávital and effective ways to combat our addictions and maintain long-term sobriety, but sometimes this doesn’t make us feel better in the moment. What else can we do to improve our chances of recovery and alleviate some of the more uncomfortable symptoms of early sobriety? The answer: EXERCISE!

When you exercise, your brain releases “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine, which helps regulate mood, motivation, energy and attitude, endorphins which act as the body’s natural “painkillers” helping to diminish the sensation of pain, and serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate sleep/wake cycle, appetite and mood. The good news is you don’t have to workout for weeks or months to feel the results, you can feel the benefits of exercise after just one workout!

“Sounds great! But I haven’t exercised in years….”

If you are like most people in early recovery, you probably haven’t been consistently crushing it at the gym or been a reliable member of that softball team you joined for quite some time. It may have been years since you’ve exercised and you have no idea where to start or what to do. There’s no need to stress!

Here are 4 simple tips to help you get started on the right track:

1) Pick an activity you enjoy doing – This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people drag themselves through workouts they can barely tolerate. In early recovery, consistency is going to matter more than what you do, how hard you workout, or how long you workout for. If you can’t stand running or lifting weights, then don’t run or lift weights. Pick an activity you enjoy to some degree, basketball, yoga, walking, gardening/yard work, swimming, lifting weights…as long as it makes you work a little and you do it for 20 minutes or more, it is likely to make you feel better AND release “feel-good” neurotransmitters in your brain.

2) Walking – There are so many reasons why walking is probably the most underrated exercise activity you have at your disposal. First, it can be done almost anywhere, you don’t need a gym for this. Second, it’s easy enough for most people (free from serious injury and disability) to start right now, today…this very minute. Third, low-intensity exercise like walking almost entirely relies on fat burning for energy. MOST Importantly, research has shown that 6 days of walking for 35 minutes can reduce depression symptoms by 47%! Walking in the morning is a great way to jump-start your day and get you into a positive mindset. Walking in the evening can act as a relaxing way to unwind from the day: just 20-30 minutes of walking can raise your body temperature, creating a calming effect. Walking can also give you an activity to do while catching up with friends, sponsors and others people supportive of your recovery either on the phone or in person!

3) Resistance training – Weightlifting is a great form of exercise for people new to recovery. For starters, it causes the release of the same “feel-good” chemicals in the brain just like jogging and other forms of exercise. Resistance training also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and typically improves self-esteem to a greater degree than other forms of exercise. Weight training gives results you can see and feel quickly as muscles began to become larger or more defined and clothes begin to fit better. This all leads to rewarding feelings of accomplishment and pride.

4) Workout with others – As with so many things in life, the more social support you have the more likely you will continue to do that activity. It is important for people in early recovery to surround themselves with healthy and supportive people. The more people you workout with, the more likely your newfound dedication to exercise will last and not fade away when you start that new job or when things get a little busy around the holidays (i.e. the times when exercise might be more important than ever!). Working out with friends will increase your accountability, encourage you to push yourself, and allow for safer and more enjoyable workouts! So whether it’s a group fitness class or just one workout partner, you will better your chances of success in a team then going it alone.

Wellness Coordinator St Christopher's Addiction Wellness Center

Travis Weisbrod
ACE Personal Trainer
Wellness Coordinator
St. Christopher’s Addiction Wellness Center

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