Anyone who has been through addiction treatment will tell you that recovery is much more than simply staying sober. While refraining from substance use is vital in recovery, other wellness habits are also essential for holistic healing.
Substance abuse alters a person’s body chemistry, meaning those in recovery must work hard to overcome these physiological changes to return to a normal state of being.
Everyone knows that exercise has wonderful physical benefits as it boosts strength, heart heart, and weight management, but for those in recovery, staying active will help rebuild the body and heal from the physical and mental trauma of substance abuse.
While these benefits are reason enough to implement regular exercise in addiction recovery, the positive impact aerobic activity has on the mind and spirit make it non-negotiable.
5 Reasons Exercise is an Important Part of Addiction Recovery
1. Exercise Positively Alters Brain Chemistry
In the beginning of recovery, feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress are common and may lead to relapse.
It is important to understand that refraining from drugs and alcohol alone will not be the solution to overcoming these difficult emotions. They must be treated separately through therapy and natural healing.
When engaging in exercise, the brain releases dopamine, which is the same chemical that is released through substance use.
After long periods of abusing drugs and alcohol, the brain loses its ability to release dopamine naturally, leaving the user dependent on substances for a feel-good high.
Through aerobic activity, the brain will relearn how to release dopamine without the assistance of drugs or alcohol, resulting in regulated brain chemistry and fewer cravings.
2. Exercise Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Addiction is often a result of trying to cope with stress and anxiety, and it’s these same emotions that often lead to relapse. Once a person stops using substances, it is essential that they find a new way to manage these feelings in a healthy, constructive way.
Regular exercise has been proven to release tension related to our mental state and physical bodies. Maintaining an exercise routine is a proactive way to manage stress, and is also an effective coping mechanism for dealing with stressful situations.
By implementing a regular workout routine, those in recovery simultaneously prevent stress while managing it more effectively.
3. Exercise Improves Mood
Because exercise releases dopamine, it naturally helps regulate the mood.
As the body detoxes from drugs and alcohol, the mind is dramatically affected and the mood fluctuates often. These shifts in perspective and attitude can take a toll on the person in recovery and may tempt them to turn to substances in an effort to manage their inconsistent emotions.
The endorphins released during exercise are not only a way to create a natural high, they also improve the mood.
According to The Mayo Clinic, just 30 minutes of aerobic activity is enough to experience a notable difference.
So while exercise shouldn’t be used as a replacement for therapy session in out-patient treatment, it is a necessary ingredient to stabilizing emotions and staying positive.
4. Exercise Strengthens Immunity
Along with preventing cravings for substances, exercise also has the ability to protect the body against other health conditions.
Unfortunately, less than half of Americans get the aerobic activity they need to experience this benefit.
By sticking to an exercise routine at least three days a week, the body is protected against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers.
5. Exercise Promotes Sleep
Many of those in recovery struggle with insomnia. The inability to sleep has a negative impact on our entire being and can lead to irrational thinking and risky behavior.
This is why is it vital for those overcoming addiction to establish a consistent sleep schedule.
Regular exercise not only helps the body fall to sleep, it results in a deeper sleep which prevents the need to nap midday.
By establishing a consistent sleep schedule, energy levels will increase during the waking hours, boosting productivity and alertness, and reducing addiction cravings.
5 Types of Exercise to Consider During Recovery
Yoga is a powerful workout for both the body and mind.
Through stretching, muscle strengthening, and breathing exercises, yoga is a practice in mindfulness and overcoming perceived physical limitations.
There are many forms of exercise that hardly feel like exercise at all. Going on a hike or a long walk is enough to get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing. Set aside 30 minutes 3-4 times a week to go outside and get moving.
3. Strength Training
Strength training is a wonderful way to receive the benefits of exercise while experiencing a feeling of empowerment.
Through setting personal goals, challenging endurance, and building strength, weight lifting and other forms of training are very beneficial for those in recovery.
4. Team Sports
Connection is one of the most important factors to preventing relapse.
It is imperative to build a community after addiction treatment, and joining a team is one of the most effective ways to do so.
Not only will this provide connection, it will encourage physical activity and provide the benefits of exercise.
Nature immersion is another helpful tool while in recovery treatment.
Through surfing, those working to overcome addiction will stay active, experience the healing power of the ocean, practice mindfulness, get outdoors, and release stress.