Exercise for Treatment & Better Habits

Make no mistake about it, I’m a fan of exercise as a form of treatment for those struggling with their addiction(s) or mental illness. It’s why I started Active For Recovery. I truly believe a missing component in many treatment programs is the introduction of personal fitness and health into an individuals life. However, exercise doesn’t have to be an ultra-strenuous session at the gym, it can be as simple as a bike ride, going for a walk, swimming, or finding something else you enjoy doing that keeps you moving. It’s not just me, but there’s plenty of research to suggest that exercise is a great addition to any treatment program. Here’s an excerpt from the study “Stimulant Reduction Intervention using Dosed Exercise”

Clinical data examining the use of exercise as a treatment for the abuse of nicotine, alcohol, and other substances suggest that exercise may be a beneficial treatment for stimulant abuse, with direct effects on decreased use and craving. In addition, exercise has the potential to improve other health domains that may be adversely affected by stimulant use or its treatment, such as sleep disturbance, cognitive function, mood, weight gain, quality of life, and anhedonia, since it has been shown to improve many of these domains in a number of other clinical disorders.

Not only can exercise help decrease use and cravings, but it also has the added benefit of possibly reversing some of the adverse affects substance abuse may have caused on your body.

You’re Playing With My Endorphins

When someone is trying to recover from addiction, they’re not only going to be going through withdrawls, but their body’s endorphins are also going to be all out of whack. The previous “high” feeling you had is no longer there and, at first, it seems like the only way to be happy again is to get back on whatever you were doing. But, this is where exercise comes in. Exercise leads to the release of endorphins.

Studies show exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which cause us to have what is commonly known as a“natural high” or a“runners high.”You may not realize what caused it, but most of us have felt it. Most people will attest, it’s the best drug in the world with wonderful residual health benefits.

Overall Happiness

For me, exercise has been the key to me staying addiction free and completely relapsing. When I exercise, even for the smallest amount of time a day, I tend to eat healthier overall and my day goes by smoother. When I don’t exercise for a period of time, I recognize that my eating habits tend to become a little worse and it becomes more difficult to startup my routine again.

Why I Enjoy Exercise and Being Fit

How to Think About ExerciseI just finished reading How to Think About Exercise by Damon Young and it has been incredibly insightful in helping me rediscover why I enjoy exercise and being fit. The book starts off talking about dualism, which in this context is explained as the division between the mind and the body. Most of the time, people spend a lot of time working on one or the other. I would argue that those who focus exclusively on just the mind or the body would end up lacking a truly fulfilling life and would lessen their opportunity to thrive.

Back in the seventeenth century a French philosopher, René Descartes, recognized the connection between exercise and mindfulness. He thought about “how it felt to walk up a steep hill, or fall behind in a schoolyard sprint.”

Socrates also promoted exercise in his philosophy, “Many people’s minds are so invaded by forgetfulness, despondency, irritability, and insanity because of their poor physical condition, that their knowledge is actually driven out of them.” But I really enjoy what Xenophon wrote:

We only have one life, and youth is brief. To be healthy without trying to run faster and longer, or harden one’s muscles, is to squander a chance to be more than one is; to miss the unique joy of striving, however painful.

The Greeks strived physically and mindfully, and certainly enjoyed the rewards. “Exercise is a chance to educate our bodies and minds, at once. […] Over the months and years, we can become more aware of subtle changes to character: we are more proud, humble, generous, or constant.”

Exercise is our chance to become a more defined version of ourselves. As our muscles get bigger or as we get leaner and we’re crushing the day’s workout, we’re also training our mind that we can survive and, in fact, are operating very well as we sweat and strain ourselves to exhaustion.

I enjoy exercise because it also gives me an opportunity push myself and to clear my mind. As the book mentions, “we are doing more than tightening our thighs and calves. We are also loosening our minds, and giving them interesting things to contemplate in this state.” Some people refer to this as a “void” or “flow” state.

But exercise, to me, isn’t about walking endlessly on a treadmill. For me, it has several criteria:

  1. Is it functional?
  2. Is it fun? (Like lifting weights or riding my bike or, more recently, swimming)
  3. Is it something that can challenge me? I may do something I don’t enjoy doing once or twice a week, just for the challenge (this is something Body By Boris gets me to do every now and then).

I personally get really excited about lifting heavy weight. I love it, but the lifting movements should have a function. “All that is beautiful,” says Socrates, “whether in body, colour, form, sound, or activity would be classed as such by reference to some purpose.” For example, deadlifts are incredibly helpful in moving furniture.

Overall, I could go in many directions with this book and you’ll probably see more posts in future referencing it. However, I really encourage you to check it out for yourself: How to Think About Exercise. What do you enjoy about exercise and being fit?

A Mud Run and Melon Run

Armageddon Ambush Ice BathLast weekend, June 28, I participated in my first mud run… the Armageddon Ambush! Per their website, “Armageddon Ambush events are strenuous 5k (3.1 mile) mud and color ambush obstacle courses designed to challenge your all around power and endurance through mental and physical tests. Imagine a rugged park terrain with hefty obstacles that are tailored to end of the world disasters and challenges. Not to mention the color ambushes all throughout the course.” It was my first mud run and I was a little unsure of what I got myself into, especially after the second obstacle, rings monkey bars, as I don’t quite have the shoulder strength (or technique) to swing across quickly, so I quickly fell into the mud. However, after the monkey bars I was able to reclaim some confidence with rope climbs. Other obstacles were climbing over & crawling under walls, sand bag carries, wading through mud pits, ice crawls, and, obviously, mud crawls. Out of all the obstacles, the one that caught me most off guard was the ice crawl… it was a different experience and my body took a few minutes to acclimate during and after. All said and done, the Armageddon Ambush was an awesome obstacle course and I’m definitely “hooked” and plan on doing more! If you want to see how I look coming out of the race, check out this video.

5k Melon Run

On July 4th, I participated in the 36th Annual Melon Run here in Gainesville, FL. Pretty stoked as it was my first 5k under 30 minutes, 28:27. I definitely noticed a difference as it was also my first time running with my Garmin Forerunner 110 which allowed me to pace myself better than previous runs. Overall, I’m still not completely satisfied with my speed when it comes to running, but that’s something that comes with practice and time. I’d admit, sometimes I get frustrated at myself as I believe I could be quicker, but then I look back from where I’ve come from:

Date Race Distance Time Days Between Time Difference
2/15/2014 Five Points of Life 5k 35:43
4/16/2014 LGAA 5k 31:52 60 -3:51
7/4/2014 Melon Run 5k 28:27 79 -3:25

Overall, I’m pretty excited about my progress and I’m looking forward to the months ahead as there seems to be a lot more 5ks, mud runs, and other events that I plan on signing up for… including my first triathlon, which I’ll be discussing in my next post!

Fitness Journey: A One Year Review

AJ Overweight Over 330Seeing how today is #TransformationTuesday, I figured it would be an awesome day to talk about my fitness journey that I started exactly one year ago today.

On June 17, 2013, I took the first step in changing my life and decided to take control. No longer would I be chained to pills (prescribed or not), no longer would I fuel my body poorly, and no longer would I be exhausted by doing everyday activities. I wanted to actually live and experience life, not just pass through it. So, the first thing I did was step on the scale and come to turns with who I let myself become: all 333 pounds of it. I didn’t take any measurements or photographs, as I was too ashamed. My only option was to start moving.

At the time, walking a mile was painful and going faster than a 21 minute mile was out of the question, but I kept at it. I began changing my diet from burgers & fries or sandwiches & chips to healthy salads and homemade meals. Pasta was eliminated and stir fry (steak or chicken & veggies) became a staple dinner. I didn’t know if I was gluten intolerant or if I had any food allergies besides some dairy, but the idea of eating real, unprocessed food just made sense to me.

However, I soon became bored with walking and lost some motivation. I needed to find something that I enjoyed doing and rediscovered my love for biking. Growing up, I loved biking all around North Miami with my friends. Whether it was around the neighborhood or to a nearby mall, we biked everywhere. After checking out a few shops in Gainesville, I found that the folks at Gator Cycle were genuine and truly interested in helping me. They recommended the Trek Wahoo 29 and I have loved it ever since. Biking made exercising enjoyable and gave me the opportunity to find adventure in my life. I would often take detours whenever I found a path just to see where it would take me. Before I knew it, I was losing weight and having fun.

AJ Kicking Tire at FitologoyIn September 2013, I joined Anytime Fitness to work on strength training and took my first measurements. I weighed 285lbs and had a 53″ waist, with my 5’7″ height my estimated body fat was 39%. After a few weeks, I noticed a trainer, Eric Williams, having people do all sorts of craziness: flipping tires, sledgehammers, kettlebells, etc. I was intrigued and signed up for group workouts. Eric showed me the power of tabata/HIIT and even though I only worked out with him for a couple of months, his training gave me a great foundation. Eventually, Eric moved away from Gainesville and started his own business in Tallahassee called Fitology 101; however, his methods had me down to 231lbs and 46″ waist (estimated 32% body fat) by November.

AJ Body By Boris PullupOn December 20, 2013, I wanted to up my game a little bit and needed a bit more direction. So, I made the decision to leave Anytime Fitness and join Body By Boris (BBB). While I continued biking around Gainesville, BBB taught me that working out is more than just aesthetics, it’s the athletics. Sure, you’re going to look better by working out at BBB, but they care about how you feel and perform. When I joined BBB, I weighed 215lbs and 25% body fat. By April 2014, I was down to 175lbs and 15% body fat. Joining BBB is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in my journey, as I’ve gained more than just membership to a gym… I’m part of an entire community of people who not only want to improve themselves, but are genuinely interested in helping others. Between December and April, I ran my first 5k on February 15 in 35:43. On April 16th, I participated in another 5k and completed it in 31:52. I am running my first Mud Run (Armageddon Ambush: Extreme Mud Run) on June 28th and will be competing in my first sprint triathlon in Siesta Beach on August 2nd. I’m hitting personal records by either improving my time (or actually completing the Murph in 55 minutes) or lifting heavier weights (improved my deadlift from 205 in April to 275 just a few days ago).

Reflecting back on the past year, this journey and experience have been incredible. Negative habits have been replaced with willpower, endurance, determination, and confidence. Sure, there are some days where I say “I can’t” but I quickly follow it up with “I will… soon.” The journey is no longer about just the muscles or the looks, as those things will come in time. It’s about my new perception on life and my new ambitions. It’s recognizing that I’m no longer shackled to who I was, but who I am and can be. In your journey, there will be days that seem to defeat you. There will be people who question you. There will be bad eating days. It’s important to just keep going. Make time for celebration. Have fun with friends and family who support you.

I’ll end this post with one of the most powerful quotes that I’ve read and keeps me going:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt