Most people understand the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol when you are trying to maintain your sobriety, yet there is a lot more that goes into it than just abstinence. Recent research has suggested that incorporating exercise into your routine has powerful and positive effects whether you are in rehab, or have years of sobriety under your belt. While no one is suggesting that you need to run a marathon or become a world-class athlete, adding some sort of physical activity into your life is well worth exploring.
Understanding the benefits of exercise and sobriety is something that has been studied for many years now. While it generally seems to make sense on a common-sense level, the science behind it is quite compelling with far-reaching benefits for anyone with a substance abuse problem. Addicts seem to benefit no matter what stage of recovery they are in or what substance they have been abusing according to a 2011 study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). It found that individuals who engaged in regular aerobic exercise were less likely to use and abuse illicit drugs and that exercise produces protective neurobiological effects and acts as “non-drug reinforcer to decrease risk factors associated with substance use”. They further suggest that exercise helps to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.
Exercise also benefits those in recovery by alleviating depression which can often lead to relapse. Aerobic and cardio exercise seems to bear the best results as “Exercise stimulates the release of brain chemicals when someone is battling depression,” explains David Musing, MD, the founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research, “To date, the strongest evidence seems to support aerobic exercise.”
What Kind of Activities Are Best
There is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to exercise. If you are a recovering addict, you should consult your physician and/or a fitness professional and get a full health examination before you start a new exercise regime. It is up to you to discover what activities you enjoy, as well as what is the most accessible, affordable and appropriate for your current age and health status. For some people, it may be as simple as walking or swimming, while others may prefer jogging, taking fitness classes or decide to train for a sporting competition. It’s really up to you. Here are a few activities that have been found to improve mental health and reduce the risk of relapse.
- Aerobic Exercise: This includes walking, jogging, biking, swimming or anything you can do at a brisk pace.
- Weight Lifting: You can go to the gym or simply buy free weights to use at home. Weight lifting is wonderful because you can improve muscle tone through lifting weights or other forms of strength training.
- Yoga or Tai Chi: This is beneficial because the combination of stretching, strengthening, and meditation is known to improve mood and calm the mind.
- Commune with Nature: This could be walking, hiking, gardening, or anything that gets you into nature, enjoying the sun and fresh air.
Benefits of Exercise
The wonderful thing about exercise is that over time you will find that small changes yield large results. There are many benefits that exercise has including the ability to improve your appearance, strengthen and tone your muscles, and boost your endurance. Exercise helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body and makes your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. Another bonus, if you are doing exercises outside, comes from the fresh air and sun. Sunlight is known to improve your mood by regulating serotonin levels and boosting natural vitamin D production in your body.
Below is a list of some of the benefits you should see if you start to exercise regularly.
There is an old saying about how idle hands lead to mischief, which is why exercise can be an ideal distraction for the recovering addict. By adding a yoga or spinning class, or making an appointment with a fitness trainer at the local gym to your weekly schedule can add the kind of structure you need to support your sobriety.
Stress is a killer and we all know how easy it is to get overwhelmed with the pressures of everyday life. Physical activities release “feel-good” endorphins in the brain and improves circulation, both of which help with stress. Stress can be a major trigger for repulse, and if you can manage it properly with a fitness plan you will improve your chances of maintaining your sobriety. Exercise also benefits brain chemistry by releasing cannabinoids and galantine which are known to lower stress.
Cravings are one of the most insidious and alarming issues that addicts deal with in recovery because you never know when they will pop up. One of the most important parts of an exercise during recovery involves balancing brain chemistry. Drugs and alcohol change your brain chemistry by binding to specific receptor cells. Exercise lowers levels of a protein in the brain associated with drug cravings and also releases “feel-good” endorphins that can reduce cravings.
Improve SleepMost addicts report having issues related to irregular sleep habits such as insomnia, and regular exercise has been shown to improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. Regular exercise allows your body to get into a rhythm that supports healthy sleep habits and allows you to fall asleep quickly and easily.
One of the hallmarks of addiction is a diminishing sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Regular exercise allows you to regain self-confidence as it becomes a part of a healthy and substance-free lifestyle. When you look better and feel better you will do better. Exercise is the fuel that will propel you to the next level in your recovery and enable you to reach your full potential both emotionally and physically.
It only takes a small shift in thinking to point you in the right direction in set you on a new path in your sobriety. While abstaining from drugs and alcohol is the foundation, things such as your physical, mental and spiritual health cannot be underestimated. There are many reasons to choose to add a pillar of physical fitness to your overarching wellness plan to optimize your recovery. The benefits are obvious and can be crucial for helping you navigate the daily demands of living a life without the use of alcohol or drugs. Just 30 minutes of exercise per day is enough to affect a positive change and help you stabilize your recovery for the long term. If you or someone you care about is suffering from an addiction then please contact the professionals at The River Rehab to explore what holistic treatment options are available or to get a free assessment today.
You can go to the gym or simply buy free weights to use at home. Weight lifting is wonderful because you can improve muscle tone through lifting weights or other forms of strength training.
Yoga or Tai Chi
This is beneficial because the combination of stretching, strengthening, and meditation is known to improve mood and calm the mind.
Commune with Nature
This could be walking, hiking, gardening, or anything that gets you into nature, enjoying the sun and fresh air.