The initial challenge of rousing yourself to hit the gym or lace up sneakers for a brisk walk or slow jog especially when a good Netflix show calls your attention might feel impossible. Yet doctors tout exercise not necessarily as a panacea for all that ails us, but certainly as a healthier outlet than drugs or alcohol to relieve physical and mental ailments, decompress and control cravings.
Doctors are increasingly incorporating exercise into the treatment of their patients’ substance abuse and addiction recovery programs. Exercise relieves stressors that lead to the depression and anxiety, which often trigger initial and continued substance abuse and relapses. Studies have shown that exercise and relapse prevention work together.
How exercise helps with addiction recovery
Exercise reduces poor choices and negative, drug-seeking behavior. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that exercise, when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy, has proven effective at helping smokers quit. Why? It addresses psychosocial and physiological needs by reducing negative feelings and stress.
Exercise promotes better sleep, which often is affected not only by addictive behaviors, but also addiction treatments themselves. Regular exercise improves sleep patterns and quality over time. Exercise also alters the body’s temperature, which climbs during and immediately after working out. After a workout, your body cools faster than usual, which makes it easier to fall into a healing, restful sleep more quickly.
Exercise generates energy, especially as your body becomes more physically fit. When your body’s in shape, it’s easier to climb stairs, chase after the dog (or kids!), or generally be more active. Living is hard, so many people choose early morning exercise to get an energy boost that carries them through the entire day.
Exercise improves your mood. OK, maybe not quite like a bowl of chocolates or plate of oysters, but exercise releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that trigger happy, positive feelings.
Exercise acts like a shield that wards off diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and certain cancers. Studies show that exercise also reduces cravings for legal and illegal substances, boosts recovery rates and also protects your body against the effects of drugs.
Exercise includes stretching and strengthening activities, which also help your body heal from disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and can speed up weight loss, which lowers blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Finding the best exercise program
The adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” may be cliche, but that’s because it’s true. If you’re just starting out on your recovery and exercise, you won’t be gearing up the Boston marathon right away and that’s OK.
Experts recommend yoga during addiction recovery because it helps you to connect to your body and your mind. The mind-body connection is critical for healing and reducing stress. Since many addicts must heal both their psyche and their bodies, yoga’s nature facilitates that healing.
Yoga might not be your thing, and that’s OK, too. You’ll want to find something that you enjoy doing, because it’s a lot easier to make it an integral part of your life. Other exercises that might appeal more include:
- Walking, jogging, running, or hiking
- Rock climbing
- Boxing or martial arts
- Skiing, snowboarding, or skateboarding
- Team sports like basketball, football, softball or tennis
For more ideas on how to develop an exercise routine, additional benefits to exercising during recovery, and a few cautions about exercising while in recovery, visit recovery.org .
Because exercise requires a routine, it naturally becomes a healthy time to focus on something positive. Creating a regimented schedule helps recovering addicts to reach their goals. Exercise also helps people in recovery manage not just stress, but also their individual triggers and cravings.
Whether you decide to work out in the morning or after dinner, or you sign up for a spin class where you’re also able to socialize in a healthier, more positive environment, the further you progress in your exercise program, the more it becomes a healthy outlet to release stress and feel better physically and mentally.
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