Exercise: The Pathway to A Better Life

May 10, 2016

We all get a lot of advice and information about the importance of exercise and physical activity. The health benefits are impossible to ignore: improving mood, helping concentration, regulating sleep, and the potential for healthy weight regulation. Making changes to substance use are often helped by adding in other activities that would compete with use, and exercise is a great option for many people. It can feel comfortable and natural for those who have played sports in the past. Many others, though, may be totally new to doing physical activity in a planned way. Starting can feel overwhelming. With spring, though, come many opportunities to get out and active. This comes with an added benefit of exposure to sunlight, which can also help improve mood and better regulate sleep!

If starting planned exercise for the first time, or returning to activities that were once enjoyable, it’s helpful to set some SMART goals for yourself. This will help manage expectations and the pace of change, and also help you assess whether you’re achieving what you’d like. SMART goals are:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timely

For physical activity, this could mean deciding on a time and day (Saturday at 2pm) and type of exercise (a walk around the reservoir) that is both clear in its parameters and doable for you. It would also be great if it were something potentially enjoyable! Time with friends or loved ones can help with this, or incorporating interesting scenery, a new experience, or a tried-and-true activity.

There are many options to get out and about in your town. Here are a few examples that we found in our towns, both the Berkshires in Massachusetts and in NYC. You can use these as inspiration or as a jumping off point to find your own ways to be active.

In the Berkshires:
Hike at Monument Mountain and take in the views from the top of the trail
Walk or run the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
Bike (with a helmet!) on the country roads
Take an outdoor yoga class

Walk or run through Central Park
Kayak through any of the free options in NYC
Take a walking tour of a new neighborhood
Join in free yoga in Bryant Park or Socrates Sculpture Park

The most important goal? Finding a way to be open and willing to try new things. And being honest about what you find enjoyable and what is potentially sustainable in terms of introducing exercise in your life. If you hate the treadmill…there is no need to push yourself to run on one 3 days a week. But you do need to push yourself to find something that you “do want to do” or at least what is enjoyable enough that you don’t avoid it.

Our bodies are meant to move. As we move from spring into summer, we recommend that you spend some time to identify and incorporate exercise into your routine and life. Odds are you will feel better no matter what your goal is in terms of substance use, weight, or mental health in general.

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