Natural Stress Relief
Exercise provides natural stress relief during troubling times. When you’re in recovery, staying active is one of the best ways to cope with stress-induced cravings.
Exercise helps reduce stress in three primary ways:
- Exercise creates what’s known as a “runner’s high” by increasing the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
- Exercise is a form of meditation, since you can’t worry about the day’s problems when you’re focused on moving your body.
- Exercise triggers a drop in stress hormone levels, which makes it easier to sleep at night.
If you’re struggling to fit regular exercise into your daily routine, you’re not alone. It can take some time for people in recovery to create a daily schedule that keeps them on track and helps them reach their sobriety goals. Here are some tips from Mountain Laurel Recovery Center’s Pennsylvania drug and alcohol addiction treatment program to help you incorporate exercise into your new wellness-focused lifestyle.
Set Realistic Goals
The National Heart Association recommends that you get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both moderate and vigorous activity spread throughout the week. For additional benefits, they recommend exercising at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week. However, these goals may not be realistic if you’re currently accustomed to spending all your free time on the couch.
In recovery, we often mention the value of setting In recovery, we often mention the value of setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely. that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely. For example, if you’re leading a very sedentary lifestyle, 10- or 15-minute workouts are a great place to start getting more activity each day. There are many videos and free online tutorials with suggestions for short workouts you can squeeze into a busy day. Start with one workout each morning, then add a second session in a few weeks.
Pick an Activity You Enjoy
Exercise will be a more effective tool for stress management if you stick to the activities you enjoy. For example, dancing to your favorite music can be a great workout—and the soundtrack offers its own mood-boosting benefits. An outdoor yoga practice improves your strength and flexibility while letting you enjoy time spent in nature.
Remember that physical activity doesn’t necessarily have to involve traditional forms of exercise. If you have children, for example, playing active games together can be a good way to make physical activity a part of your daily routine. You’ll also be modeling the healthy lifestyle habits that your children need to become happy and successful adults.
Regardless of what type of physical activity you choose, safety should always be your first priority. If you have current health concerns such as chronic pain or limited mobility, speak to your healthcare provider about the safest way to incorporate exercise into your daily lifestyle.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Accountability is essential to lasting sobriety, but it’s also helpful when you’re trying to get in the habit of exercising. Some ways to hold yourself accountable for exercising include:
- Invest in a Fitbit or other activity tracker
- Document your exercise progress in your journal
- Pick a family member to exercise with
- Make a friendly wager with a group of friends, so you have a financial incentive to keep exercising
- Join an online fitness forum where members encourage each other to reach their goals
Studies have shown it takes about a month to build a new habit. Exercising may seem like a dreaded chore during those first few weeks, but as the month goes on, you’ll start to feel stronger and more energetic.
Remember that you’re only human. If you skip a workout, don’t look at it as an excuse to abandon your efforts entirely. Just pick up where you left off. As with other aspects of recovery, strive for progress over perfection.