For many, exercise has powerful mental health benefits. The research
validates this fact. To start, exercise for many can be a form of meditation. It creates the space and time to simply be present. Much of recovery is about learning to live in the present moment. Fears, doubts, insecurities, and anxieties typically live in the past and the future. When you’re engaged in cardio, practicing yoga, or lifting weights, you are aware of your heartbeat and your breath. Furthermore, you are quieting the mind and initiating the release of endorphins, which generate a greater sense of ease and calm. Tapping into the body and remaining present is a meditative experience.
In addition, exercise is a powerful, and completely natural, anti-depressant. It is also free, depending on what activities you enjoy. The chemical release that occurs during physical exercise is proven to be as effective as leading anti-depressant medications (without the negative side effects) when treating mild to moderate depression. “Even if it’s a temporary fix, I can count on 30 hard minutes on the Stairmaster to rescue me from my own mind,” says Rachael Messaros, outreach coordinator at the Redpoint Center.
Exercise provides structure and leads to healthy choices. Sometimes we just need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and starting the day with movement sets us up for a far better day. “When I can work exercise into my weekly routine, it provides me with a healthy structure and promotes self-care
. It provides evidence that I am taking time out of the day to make a healthy decision for myself, which in turn leads to more of the same, like eating well and getting enough rest,” adds Rachael.
Exercise as a Spiritual Practice
Exercise for recovery can be a spiritual practice for many of us. While exercising in nature we are more attuned to the greater world around us. In addition, even riding the cardio bike in the class at the gym can help you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. We become more aware of a sense of connectivity.
“Nature nourishes my soul, and so do other humans working towards a similar goal,”—Rachael Massaros, Outreach Coordinator at Redpoint Center
As mentioned before, what works for one person doesn’t always resonate with another. There is however a growing body of evidence that suggests getting outside (or inside) and moving your body has significant benefits for not only physical but also mental health. Perhaps the two aren’t so different from one another in the first place.