The recovery process is challenging, but there are many things that can help your child to recover successfully: healthy relationships, reliable medical professionals, therapy, treatment facilities and, if your teen is strong enough, exercise. Exercise has many benefits in general, but, for a young person in recovery, it can be a saving grace.
Exercise serves as a distraction from worries and depressing thoughts. In general, distracting activities seem to have a greater impact on those coping with depression than activities that are more introspective (such as journaling or describing your mood). It may be the case that your teen simply needs to get up, move around and challenge their physical body for a time in order to take their mind off of their current predicament.
Exercise releases endorphins; we’ve all heard this phrase, but what does it mean exactly? Well, these chemicals act as analgesics—they interact with receptors in your brain and reduce your perception of pain. You’ve most likely heard of a ‘runner’s high’, which is the sense of euphoria resulting from an endorphin release. This diminished sense of pain and euphoria can provide your teen with a respite from the difficulties of recovery.
Apart from the chemical nature of exercise, some researchers believe that the sense of mastery and accomplishment gained through physical activity can lead to a boost in a person’s sense of self-worth. Your teen may be seriously doubting their self-worth on the road to recovery, but exercise might enhance their self-efficacy or the belief that they’re able to complete a task and reach a desired outcome. Minor accomplishments, like meeting an exercise goal, can give your teen the confidence they need to tackle their recovery.
In a study of young adults who experienced persistent fatigue, researchers found that establishing an exercise routine led to beneficial effects on feelings of energy. Regardless of aerobic fitness, participants who engaged in exercise regularly showed a marked improvement in energy levels. When your teen feels less fatigued and more energized, they can face the challenges ahead of them.
Your teen may not be recovering from depression, but they may be feeling anxious during this time. The thermogenic hypothesis suggests that simply warming up the body through exercise can reduce feelings of depression. Increases in temperature in certain areas of the brain (the brainstem, for example) can lead to feelings of relaxation and a reduction in muscle tension. This theory still needs a lot more scientific backing, but is yet another potential reason for why exercise is a valuable part of recovery.
Feature Image: Rosmarie Voegtli