There are loads of studies supporting the numerous mental and physical health benefits of exercise. For example, one study of more than a million Americans found that regular exercise reduced the burden of mental health issues by at least 20 percent. And there is emerging research in both animal and human studies indicating that regular exercise can reduce the risk of relapse to opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis. However, everyone is different and will have a different reaction to exercise. While most people notice improvements in mood, energy, and stress reduction pretty quickly, others may begin an exercise regimen and actually feel worse. Here are some things to try if you find yourself in that situation.
Give it time.
Whenever you start something new, it’s going to feel uncomfortable at first. This is especially true of exercise, which is inherently uncomfortable and will likely lead to mild aching and soreness for the first couple of weeks. This soreness will mostly go away. Typically, it takes a month or two to start feeling the real benefits of exercise and if you let the early difficulty deter you, you won’t get to the good stuff. If it’s been a month and you’re still feeling bad after exercise, it might be time to consider some other issues.
Look at your self-care.
Adopting a habit of regular exercise also means you have to start taking care of yourself in other ways. Since you’re using more energy, you may have to start eating a bit more, especially if you’re underweight or already close to your target weight. You also have to start eating healthier. If you eat a bucket of chicken and try to go for a run, you’re going to feel pretty bad. Keep track of what you eat and how it affects your exercise and general mood. And perhaps most importantly, get plenty of rest. Your body needs rest and sleep to recover from the physical demands of exercise. This is especially true if you’re lifting weights. Many lifters find they need at least nine hours of sleep a night to keep from feeling depleted.
Back off the intensity.
There’s a huge difference between a workout you can do once and a workout you can do once a day. As noted above, your body needs time to rest after intense exercise. As a general rule, the more intense a workout is, the less frequently you should do it. It’s fine, for example, to walk every day or go for a short run, if your level of fitness supports that, but if you’re squatting near your max every day, you’re going to run into trouble pretty quickly. If you always feel exhausted, try backing off the intensity a bit. Focus on your fitness priorities, leave off some other exercises until you’ve built up more work capacity.
Try something different.
Finally, if you’ve been exercising for a while, are getting plenty of rest, eating relatively well, and not over training and you still feel awful after exercise, try doing something different. There’s a saying that the best exercise is the exercise you will do. If you can’t get into running, try lifting weights. If that doesn’t work, try swimming or rock climbing. It appears that any regular, moderately intense activity has at least some mental health benefit so don’t get too hung up on what you feel like you should be doing.
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