10 Tips to Make Exercise Fun and Jumpstart Your Recovery
Exercise Strengthens Effects of Treatment
While in treatment for substance abuse, it’s common to feel depressed during the withdrawal process. Since you’re not getting the high (the release of endorphins) from your drug of choice, and your body is used to that high, you’re more likely to feel the effects of everyday stress, which only heightens cravings. Adding exercise to the mix, however, creates the opportunity for the body to release natural endorphins during a vigorous workout. Working out appears to serve as a way to help you cope during the process of recovery. This was the finding of a University of Texas Southwestern Medical School study on the benefits of exercise as an intervention for addiction.
It may be that exercise is more of a distraction than anything else. When you’re engaged in rigorous exercise, your focus is on what you’re doing. There’s less tendency to concentrate on worries or stresses when you’re counting reps, keeping up in dance class, running, swimming laps or hiking a steep path.
Research also shows that galanin, which is a chemical in the brain released during exercise, reduces stress. Galanin also seems to reduce certain cravings that are related to stress.
Tip #1: Exercise With a Friend
Whether you’re still in rehab or home now and entering recovery, find a friend to do your workouts with. There’s nothing better than two people encouraging each other (or a group of friends, for that matter) to maintain one’s motivation to continue exercising. Although you may not initially consider some of these acquaintances you meet (at a gym, in exercise therapy in rehab) as friends, they are a natural type of support group. They can serve the function of supporting you in your desire to utilize exercise to help you heal from addiction.
Tip #2: Vary Workouts and Routines
Doing the same routine day in and day out is not only boring, it may cause you to lose your enthusiasm for continuing your exercise program. Whether you’re in a formal exercise regimen, have a trainer, or you’re making it up as you go along, the best way to maintain your enthusiasm and continue exercising regularly is to vary both your workouts and your routines. If you concentrate on core one day, do cardio the next, maybe strenuous biking in place or hiking the next, back to core, and so on. Check out resources like books and videos to get ideas on workout variations and how to insert activities into your daily schedule that give you a workout but don’t seem like exercise.
Tip #3: Focus on Your Breathing
At first, getting involved in exercise may seem too much like work. If you’re all tense, your muscles tighten up and you may experience a feeling of dread and/or fatigue. Remember to breathe in and out deeply to get sufficient oxygen into your lungs. You need this for your workout anyway, and the process of deep breathing will also cause you to relax.
Tip #4: Limber Up With Stretches First
Whatever your exercise set, before diving in make sure to limber up with body stretches first. This helps avoid injury, warms your muscles and gets you ready to begin your workout in a safe and sensible manner.
Tip #5: Go to the Edge, But Not Over
As you become more familiar with the exercise routine and schedule you’re developing, you’ll know when and where you reach the edge of your endurance for the day. Experts recommend that you go to the edge of that endurance — but not over it. Never exercise to the point of pain. That’s not the point of exercise. If it hurts, stop. You may be overtiring your muscles in that part of your body. Keep in mind that as you build strength from regular exercise, your endurance will increase as well. You’ll be able to do more and do it longer. This will contribute to your feeling of overall well-being and you won’t be thinking about cravings for drugs or alcohol in the meantime.
Tip #6: Consider Exercise a Social Activity
In addition to the tip to exercise with a friend, it’s also a good idea to consider exercise an opportunity to engage in a social activity — one that’s healthy and highly beneficial to your recovery. Meeting new people is uplifting in itself. Add to that the positive aspects of exercise and you have a solid combination for making exercise fun and jumpstarting your recovery.
Tip #7: Think Of Exercise as Golden Time
When you exercise, think of this as a golden time. You are taking proactive steps to do something that’s very positive for your recovery. You aren’t sitting home alone, stewing over your problems. You’re not sick to your stomach with cravings and urges. Instead, you’re making the effort, looking forward to it even, and adding an element to your life that you know will serve you well.
Tip #8: Chart Your Progress
Nothing increases your enthusiasm and bolsters your determination better than to see results. Keep a log of your progress in your exercise program, whether it’s being able to hike a mountain trail without exertion, swim a certain number of laps without being winded, complete a full workout and still have energy left. Achieving certain exercise or activity goals you set for yourself creates a tremendous liberating effect.
Tip #9: What to Do If Thoughts Intrude
When you’re engaging in exercise, especially in the beginning when you’re just getting started in developing your routines/schedules, you’re likely to experience some intrusive thoughts. What if this doesn’t work? How will I know if it’s working? I think I need a drink. How do I get over wanting to use? When these thoughts come upon you, acknowledge that they’re there and then redouble your exercise efforts. Concentrate on the physical act of what you’re doing. See your muscles as they work out and envision them getting stronger and making you stronger. Be in the present, not in the past or future. Just be here now.
Tip #10: Make Exercise a Part of Your Life
When you find something that works for you and you enjoy it, it’s easy to want to incorporate that activity into your life. Knowing that exercise in rehab and recovery helps reduce stress, ease depression and anxiety, tones your body, improves your physical health, releases the body’s natural endorphins for a feel-good result— you’re more likely to want to keep this good thing going. Not only will it be fun, it will also put your recovery into high gear.
Sources: UCSD Nature Molecule, Galanin Receptor 2, Aug. 2006; University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas, Stimulant Reduction Intervention Using Dosed Exercise (STRIDE), Trials Journal, 2011