The Effects of Routine Exercise on Addiction Recovery
The effects that routine exercise can have on drug or alcohol addiction recovery are really quite profound.
Maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your health. You will garner a great many mental and physical health benefits from taking part in a regular, semi-intense exercise regime. From stronger muscles and bones, to improved heart health and circulation, all the way to heightened mood and energy levels and diminished stress levels. The effects are profound.
However, the case for maintaining a good exercise programme becomes more acute for those in addiction recovery. In addition to the normal benefits you would expect to see – which are often more pronounced in those going through recovery – exercise has been shown to prevent relapse, ease withdrawal symptoms, and ease a lot of the stress, anxiety and depression that recovery can bring.
In fact, most rehabilitation centres now prominently feature physical exercise in their treatment programmes. Many will have dedicated trainers and equipment to allow their patients to make the most of their physical lives and take advantage of the wellbeing benefits of staying active.
I would like to take a closer look at this. I would like to show you some of the main benefits that routine exercise can bring to your addiction recovery, and I would like to show you how to get started with your own active lifestyle.
Exercise Benefits for addiction recovery
As above, exercise and an active lifestyle are incredibly healthy. Keeping yourself moving regularly is one of the best things you can do for your health. This emphasis on exercise becomes more pronounced as you go through addiction recovery.
These are some of the main benefits you can expect to gain from routine exercise during your addiction recovery:
1. Exercise can help you through addiction recovery
Exercise during addiction recovery can make you happier. Coming through addiction is stressful and often depressing. There are often underlying factors like stress and depression behind addictive behaviour in the first place.
Anything that can elevate your mood will therefore be a fantastic aid to overcoming addiction.
Exercise cheers you up, quite literally.
On a purely physical level, it releases feel-good hormones such as endorphins. It also diminishes the presence of cortisol, the stress hormone. For this reason, many people use exercise as part of a holistic approach to tackling depression – this is how I personally use it.
Exercise also brings an element of catharsis. What do you do with all that stress and anxiety brought about by your addiction recovery? Put it into something healthy and productive. Channel that energy into exercise for a real release.
2. Exercise can also help you overcome insomnia
Insomnia is pretty common in addiction recovery. Even where insomnia isn’t present, the stress and withdrawal involved can mess up your sleep patterns and leave you exhausted.
Making use of exercise during addiction recovery can reverse this. Regular exercise can help to achieve deeper, better quality sleep, to get to sleep quicker, and to stay asleep for longer. This will give you the energy you need for addiction recovery – and for life in general – whilst giving your brain a chance to rest and recuperate.
3. It can give you energy
With this improved sleep in mind, exercise will generally give you more energy.
It may sound counterintuitive. Exercise is meant to be tiring. However, it is also rejuvenating. It can improve your circulation, which in itself will give you more energy, whilst releasing those all-important endorphins.
Then, of course, there is the improved sleep. Get a full, deep nine hours after a good long walk or a hard session at the gym and you’ll feel fantastic. Make use of exercise during recovery to once more fortify you for the emotionally draining road you are on.
4. Exercise can help you take your mind off things when addiction recovery gets hard
If you’re going through recovery, there is a good chance that you need a bit of distracting from time to time. Perhaps more often even than this.
Exercise is a good tool for this during addiction recovery. If you’re struggling with cravings or withdrawal, a brisk walk, good swim, or a few rounds on the punch bag can hit the spot. It can take your mind off it all, at least for a little while.
You may also find yourself unable to take part in the kinds of social events you used to go to. The pub isn’t a great place for recovering alcoholics to hang out. Going clubbing is a bad idea for anybody trying to quit cocaine or any party drugs, at least in the early days.
Boredom can be an issue during addiction recovery, too. Sober, you have far more time and brain space for it to get the better of you. You will have more time than ever on your hands, precisely when you don’t want to be spending time dwelling on things.
Exercise can be a great diversion, here. Meet people at the gym. Go with friends. Or simply go on your own and enjoy yourself. You will be able to use your time productively, building something positive for yourself.
5. It can boost your overall wellbeing
Your mind and body will likely have taken a bit of a beating through addiction. It’s common for people suffering from addiction to neglect their health and wellbeing. Recovery is the time to put this front and centre and regain some lost ground. Use it to treat yourself as you deserve to be treated – build up your physical and mental wellbeing.
Exercise is a great way of doing this as you go through addiction recovery. It will help your mind and body both to grow healthy and strong.
Pushing yourself through an exercise regime, finding out what you are able to do (likely a lot more than you think), and making use of all the above benefits will put you into a really good mental space. Improved circulation as you train will also bring a great many cognitive benefits, giving your brain what it needs to thrive.
Exercise will also help you to build up solid muscle and dense bone mass, both of which tend to suffer during addiction. You will be able to improve your cardiovascular health and immune system too. By exercising a minimum of 150 minutes per week, you can take yourself out of the danger zone for most chronic illnesses. These include things like heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, and even many types of cancer.
If you want to be well, exercise is a must.
How to incorporate exercise into your addiction recovery
This is all well and good, but we need something actionable. We need a way to make this work. If you’re not already living an active lifestyle, you need to find a way to incorporate exercise into your addiction recovery.
Luckily, it’s actually quite easy.
Don’t worry too much about type or intensity for the moment. You’re not trying to win an Iron Man or marathon. The health benefits you can make from exercise come with those 150 minutes of moderate-intensity work. After this, health, if not fitness, sees rapidly diminishing returns.
There may well come a time when you may want to go for more intense, muscle building, aerobic-enhancing training styles. This will be where your lung capacity grows and your strength and endurance come into play. Never lose sight of the main goal, though. Get those 150 minutes in and you will be fine. Everything else is the icing on the cake.
Here are a few common ways to get into exercise at any level.
Go for a walk
You may struggle to get into fitness. Exercise can be hard during addiction recovery, and everyone will have differing abilities. However, most of us can aim for a fifteen-minute, gentle walk every day. If you can manage this, go for it. This is the place to start.
Try to add a few minutes every walk, until you’re up to around half an hour. Do this five or six days per week and you’ll be at that 150 minute mark without much trouble.
However, walking can look different to different people. If you’re already capable of walking for an hour or more, or anticipate getting to that point soon, you may want to consider hiking. Get some good quality shoes and head out into nature. Plan a route – 3-5 miles should do it at first, then work your way up.
The exercise will be fantastic. Nature is inherently healing; it will do your mental health the world of good. And if you can get out in the sunshine, you’ll be getting a good dose of vitamin D.
Resistance exercise is great during addiction recovery. It will allow you to build strong muscles, joints, and bones. Yoga is one of the best forms of resistance exercise going. It will enable you to grow strong and flexible whilst loosening any tight, crampy joints.
It goes far beyond the physical benefits, of course. Yoga is a full mind-body training system, working as much as a meditation as a physical program. Taking part will help to lower your stress and anxiety levels. It will allow you to connect mindfully with yourself, and may even help you to uncover some deeper insights about your own journey.
There are plenty of different yoga disciplines. If you’re new to it, however, don’t worry about these. Ask in your local gym or leisure centre and get a class timetable. They will likely have several yoga classes at different times through the week. Go along to a couple and see how it feels.
Swimming is another great form of resistance exercise for addiction recovery.
It is cardiovascularly challenging, meaning that it will strengthen your lungs and heart. There is also minimal impact involved with swimming. If you’ve got any joint concerns, it is a solid option – there will be nothing banging into your knees or hips. You will be safe and comfortable.
Swimming is also good for building muscle. Pulling yourself through the water is demanding. It elicits adaptation in the muscles you are using – mostly in the back, shoulders, and arms. This will lead to growth, both in mass and strength.
You can try swimming lengths at your local pool. Alternatively, see what aquarobics classes they are running – this can be a really safe, fun way to meet people as you train.
Team sports and classes
Team sports can be a great motivator. No matter what you go in for – hockey, football, cricket, or anything else – you will be part of a larger group of people. This is vital when choosing exercise in addiction recovery.
Your old social scene may not be appropriate for you anymore. Venues you used to go to and activities in which you used to take part may be out of the question. Team sports are a good answer to this: you will be able to enjoy a good social life surrounded by positive people.
The same is true of classes. Try martial arts classes for a bit of catharsis, or Pilates to build core strength, or aerobics to get your heart rate going. All will be great forms of exercise. More importantly, all will be a great way for you to spend your leisure time amongst company.
Lifting weights can be a great form of exercise to those going through addiction recovery. There are several forms – Olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, Strongman, powerlifting, and so on. Again, don’t get too bogged down in the details for the moment.
Just get to your local gym and speak to a member of staff. They should be able to give you an induction session. As part of this, they’ll show you how to use all the equipment for most of the common exercises you’ll need. They will also be able to give you a basic plan of what to do.
This will help you to build muscle and confidence. Again, it’s a good place to hang out when other social spaces are unhealthy for you. Gyms are great places to meet people, build up friendships, and find and give support.
Our wellness hub, here at Recoverlution also offers exercise classes and yoga classes that you can try as and when it suits you. All of our classes are delivered by qualified instructors, meaning that you don't have to pay for a gym membership, not if you don't want to.
Author - James
Can exercise help conquer addiction? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-conquer-addiction-2018122615641