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How Physical Fitness Helps You Through Tough Times

Guest post by Lance Cody-Valdez

Image via Unsplash

2020 was a turning point for all of us, although often not in a positive direction. Per statistics cited by Baptist Health South Florida, the pandemic saw many people using drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate: 55% of people reported an increase alcohol consumption, with 18% reporting a significant increase, citing reasons such as stress, boredom, anxiety, and depression. Clearly, we need for healthy coping strategies when facing tough times.

Drugs stimulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins—the “feel-good” chemicals that produce feelings of joy or bliss. Those feelings only last so long, however. When you come down from your high, your brain feels depleted and washed out.

Fortunately, making exercise part of your lifestyle is a simple and free or low-cost coping strategy. The upside of exercise is that it releases those same chemicals, supplementing the feeling of a high, only in healthy doses. In that sense, it doesn’t matter which exercises you do so long as you incorporate them into a fitness regimen. Jogging, baseball, weight-lifting, pickup 3-on-3, bike riding through the mountains—whatever gets you moving, keep doing it.

Fitness and Coping

Physical fitness offers a wealth of health benefits, including stress reduction. That applies whether you’re suffering from an addiction or not. Probably the best way to fight addiction is to sign up for an inpatient or outpatient program based on science-validated methodologies. But if you’re dealing with a drug or alcohol abuse problem, a number of alternative coping methods exist that could supplement your recovery.

These include meditation, yoga, and swimming. Each of these activities is calming and low-impact, and they improve your breathing and flexibility. They also soothe tension, control your weight, and lower your blood pressure. Perhaps the most important upside, however, is that they allow you to relax. People who swim or do yoga often talk about how time seems to slip away while they’re in the pool or falling into the rhythm of their breath. That healthy escapism may be the essence of meditation, and as Psychology Today explains, it can relieve stress and help you avoid relapse.

If yoga, swimming, or meditation aren’t your thing, that’s okay. There are plenty of other exercises to choose from. Each one targets different areas of the body, and may yield different results. But the key benefit of them all is that they replenish your brain, especially if it’s been captive to a drug addiction.

When you complement physical activity with other stress-relieving techniques, you get even more benefits. For example, adding indoor plants to your living space and decluttering can help you feel more peaceful. You can also learn to manage stress by identifying what triggers tension and finding healthy coping mechanisms.

Make it Easy and Enjoyable

Even with an exercise you enjoy, there will be “off” days. Maybe the weather is keeping you in, or you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Making it easy and enjoyable can help you over the hump.

Set up a space at home where you can stretch out, add some equipment, and do a home workout that breaks up your routine, maybe even Zoom with a workout buddy. If you're looking for an easy and quick exercise routine, you can check out this kitchen workout from renowned doctor Rangan Chaterjee:

A little variety can give you the boost you need. Slip into some comfy workout clothes and crank up your favorite tunes. If you’re worried about disturbing your household, some earbuds or lightweight headphones can be just the ticket to keep you movin’ and groovin’. And you’ll be that much prouder of yourself for having stuck to it, even when the day wasn’t shaping up the way you wanted.

Improving Mental Health

People recovering from challenging times frequently suffer from feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and remorse, all of which can exacerbate pre-existing mental conditions, so if you’re struggling to regain your footing, consult with a counselor or a therapist.

Resources like BetterHelp even allow you to access a therapist from the comfort of your own home. Rooting out the source of your trouble may take years, and it can be a painful journey into the past, but it may also help you find peace.

Maintaining a Healthy Routine

It’s important to come up with an all-around healthy routine for the long term. As Verywell Health explains, some of the best self-care strategies include getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and doing the hobbies that you love. Perhaps the most important healthy habit, though, is to be around the friends and family who you enjoy. A strong support network makes you feel positive and optimistic, and can help you find your way through tough times.


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