3 Workouts to Try After a Breakup
I indulged, I’ll admit it.
When I went through my breakup with my ex-fiance, I ate all the ice cream and consumed a little more alcohol than I would usually.
I was disconnected from myself. I felt like I would never be happy again. The overwhelming pain of a broken heart makes any escape look enticing. Emotional health expert Dr. Guy Winch wrote about a study that proved that the brain processes heartbreak in the same way as physical pain in his book “How To Fix A Broken Heart”. Winch describes the University of Michigan study where paid volunteers who had recently experienced a painful breakup were placed in fMRI machines and asked to relive the most painful moments of the breakup while their brains were scanned.
Next, they were subjected to a machine that applies heat to the participant’s forearm skin while in the fMRI machine. The results show heartbreak is processed in the same areas of the brain and, in fact, looked the same in an fMRI scan as “the highest degree of physical pain” the participants could stand. With news like that, it sounds like some ice cream and a margarita is definitely in order.
However, cliche coping mechanisms like ice cream and margaritas will not get you over your ex and out of pain sooner; they only mask the pain with a temporary high.
Now, I’m not saying that you should not eat ice cream. Ice cream is amazing! But relying on it does not work because when the temporary high is gone, the negative effects of sugar and alcohol add force to your downward spiral.
The good news, you’ve got more options than you think. There are ways to cope with the breakup that improve your health instead of leaving you with a sugar crash and a hangover.
You probably guessed the healthy coping mechanism I am about to suggest: exercise. It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing when you are crumpled on the couch surrounded by tissues. However, this is when you need the mood-boosting benefits of exercise the most; “Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” Michael Otto, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Boston University says. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”.
To help you get off the couch, here are three workouts to try that not only will hack your brain into feeling a little better, but will help with three key aspects that add to the devastation of a breakup: disconnection from self, deep sadness, and the loss of a social group.
Reconnect to Yourself Through Yoga
Practicing yoga is known for its many health benefits, including improving sleep, lowering the body’s stress response, reducing blood pressure, decreasing anxiety, and more.
But it’s not all physical; yoga has been proven to “create a greater sense of well-being, increase feelings of relaxation, improve self-confidence and body image… better interpersonal relationships… lower irritability, and encourage an optimistic outlook on life”. Uh, yes, please!
The mind-body connection that yoga offers through moving meditation can help you recover your connection to self post-breakup. Beth Cooke, a New York City based yoga instructor explains: “Yoga gives you a chance to quiet the mind so you can sort out not only the physical body but the emotional body. When you’re emotionally charged, your thoughts can get tangled and caught up with your emotions and the stories you make up in your head”. By calming the mind during your yoga practice, thanks to yogas’ focus on the breath and moving meditation, you can calm the mind and reconnect to yourself.
A clear mind can seem like a lot to ask when your heart has been broken, however, yoga can help create the space to reconnect to yourself and heal.
Boost Your Mood in Spin Class
All exercise has a positive effect on brain chemistry, however, cycling has a unique one-two punch: not only are you immediately releasing Serotonin, a happy hormone, but if you attend a class in a gym you’ll be bathed in upbeat music, and surrounded by other people enjoying the class.
“Cycling can elevate your mood, relieve anxiety, increase stress resistance, and even banish the blues”. You have probably heard of something called the runner’s high. The term makes sense since chemically, your brain on exercise is a lot like your brain on drugs: your grey matter is bathed in a lot of the same chemicals, like cannabinoids that are also released by smoking marijuana.
Spin class can feel a lot like a dance club when you walk in. The lights are low and upbeat music is thumping through the loudspeakers. The different sections of a spin class are even paced to the beat of the music. Music has an effect on our mood, even increasing the release of happy chemicals like norepinephrine and melatonin, and decreasing stress-causing hormone production in the body. You have probably experienced this yourself; listening to a sad song can help stir up those feelings, whereas listening to an upbeat, positive song can help you feel more positive too.
The social aspect of spin class also helps boost mood: “The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” says Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on a 2017 study by American Osteopathic Association. People can trigger positive emotions in others just through the smell of their sweat: something that is in excess in a spin class! Many studies have shown how emotions can be caught by others, just like a virus, a phenomenon known as emotional contagion. Surround yourself with high-vibe people, all rocking out to upbeat hits while getting their sweat on, and you have a powerful cocktail for boosting your mood.
Build a New Social Group at Crossfit
It is not for everybody, but if you crave a tight-knit community and relentless commitment to self-improvement, Crossfit could be the secret sauce to get you through your breakup.
CrossFit is hard work, there’s no way around it. However, a culture of support and interaction with other members means that becoming a regular at your local “box” gives you access to a whole new group of friends. You’ll be pushed to your limits, however, shared suffering forges strong bonds! I do not do CrossFit anymore, however, between Thanksgiving parties, post-workout ping-pong sessions, Saturday brunches, and other social events that came from my CrossFit community, I can say that from experience you will find a supportive group like no other.
Unlike other weight lifting programs, Crossfit is almost exclusively a group training program. Each class goes through the warm-up, skills, and workout portions of class together. Workouts are often designed to be done in teams, giving a team environment that you may have felt was missing since high school or college.
CrossFit workouts also place a lot of emphasis on fun, with new movements and workouts each day that brings to mind games from childhood. Your full attention is required during the workout because of the complex movements and newness factor, so you will not have a moment spare to ruminate over your ex. Plus, CrossFit gyms do not have mirrors on the walls, helping you fully focus on being in your body instead of looking at it.
I recommend choosing the workout type that you are most excited by and that you feel capable of doing right now. When I had a broken heart, I lowered the intensity of my workouts because I couldn’t give the effort that some workouts required. Listen to your body as you move, but move nonetheless!
And here’s a permission slip for you: enjoy the ice cream and the margaritas. Just please do not rely on sugar and booze to get you through this breakup. Your future self will thank you.
By reconnecting to yourself with yoga, boosting your mood through endorphins and music in spin class, and expanding your community through a group fitness program like CrossFit, you will be in good shape to process the emotions of your breakup in a healthy way.