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How Can Fitness Help Overcome Addiction?

By 
Nikki Novick

Regular exercise at the beginning of recovery can be instrumental for people in treatment for addiction, as exercise boosts mood and increases endorphins.

When trying to overcome addiction, the mind and body crave the substance that is producing endorphins in the brain and creating the feeling of being high. These cravings along with the stress of daily life can feel unbearable. 


Many patients with various substance use disorders have found that exercise helps to distract them from cravings. Not only does workouts add structure to the day, they help to form positive social connections, while helping treat depression and anxiety as well.


Vigorous exercise also releases endorphins, which are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain, causing you to feel a “runner’s high”-- the same sensation of euphoria--that accompanies a chemical high. It may be less intense than what you experience with drugs or alcohol, although the effects can be pleasurable both mentally and physically. Patients receiving treatment for substance abuse showed that exercise can lead to a sense of accomplishment as well as increased confidence in staying sober. 


The Mental Benefits of Exercise:


When dealing with withdrawal, it is common to feel anxious, depressed, and sensitive to some of life’s major stressors as addiction to a substance changes your body chemistry. So, once substances are removed, it can make the road to recovery very difficult. But exercise can foster a healthy, addiction-free lifestyle as it’s been shown to provide mental benefits, such as:


  • Decrease the effectiveness of the drugs, thus lowering susceptibility to use and abuse
  • Reduce cravings and use
  • Restore brain cells damaged by intense drug abuse
  • Produce “neurological rewards” and boost self-esteem
  • Serve as a constructive coping mechanism
  • Fill a void, offering structure and routine
  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Promote better sleep
  • Builds a stronger immune system
  • Prevents relapse
  • Improve thinking and provide a positive outlook on life
  • Helps form positive social connections
  • Helps distract from cravings
  • Heightened self-confidence
  • Adds structure to daily life



The Physical Benefits of Exercise:


Exercise can have a significant effect on the mind of an individual coping with the recovery process of addiction, as it is shown to help with all of the mental benefits listed above. But, exercise can have a significant effect on the body as well, providing many physical benefits, such as:

  • Weight loss and management
  • Better sleep
  • Improved circulation
  • Increased energy
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Psychological improvements 
  • Improved self image
  • Improved mood
  • Reduced depression & anxiety
  • Sharper mental acuity



What Exercise is Right for you?

Different exercises, different effects. When it comes to addiction treatments and recovery, different exercises will affect the mind and body differently. You may find that one exercise or activity suits you better than the other, so it is recommended to experiment with different options at the beginning, to see what types of exercise is right for you:



  1. Strength Training
Rock climbing improves your flexibility and coordination while it also challenges your cardiovascular system.This can help increase your stamina, burn calories, and strengthen your heart and lungs. Image courtesy of gq-magazine.co.uk. 
Rock climbing improves your flexibility and coordination while it also challenges your cardiovascular system.This can help increase your stamina, burn calories, and strengthen your heart and lungs. Image courtesy of gq-magazine.co.uk


Weight training activities such as rock climbing or lifting weights can also help with recovery. Weight training will not only increase your muscle strength and help build muscle, but it also helps improve the body’s sleep cycle over time. 




  1. Team Sports
Isolation and loneliness in recovery are frequently triggers for relapse. A sense of belonging, on the other hand, satisfies our most innate need for human interaction and acceptance. Sober team sports can fulfill that sense of belonging. Image courtesy of unityrehab.com. 
Isolation and loneliness in recovery are frequently triggers for relapse. A sense of belonging, on the other hand, satisfies our most innate need for human interaction and acceptance. Sober team sports can fulfill that sense of belonging. Image courtesy of unityrehab.com

Addiction often leaves one feeling powerless and isolated, making it vital to develop a social support network early on in recovery. Participating in team sports help you to form positive social connections with others, which will help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. The camaraderie and competition can aid long-term recovery, giving these individuals a way to integrate back into society. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a social network that provides love, hope, friendship, and support is central to a successful recovery.

 

  1. Cardio

  

Any cardio activity outdoors is especially beneficial for improving mental health. Image courtesy of 417mag.com. 
Any cardio activity outdoors is especially beneficial for improving mental health. Image courtesy of 417mag.com


Cardio is one of the most popular forms of exercise for improving mental health. Cardio exercises get your heart rate up for a sustained period. The harder the workout, the more endorphins get released. Many people are familiar with the “runner’s high” that follows a good cardio session. It comes from that flood of endorphins and the feeling of achievement that follows energy exertion. A walk or hike outdoors is known to increase levels of dopamine during addiction treatment. A 15-minute walk is shown to help fight cravings when they arise during recovery. 



  1. Yoga
Many rehab facilities include yoga as part of recovery programs, and for good reason. Yoga has many benefits including pain relief and emotional healing. Image courtesy of hellogiggles.com. 
Many rehab facilities include yoga as part of recovery programs, and for good reason. Yoga has many benefits including pain relief and emotional healing. Image courtesy of hellogiggles.com


Less intense than some other forms of exercise, yoga sends you into a state of meditation, alleviating anxiety and stress, which can trigger relapse. Yoga has many potential health benefits including increased physical stamina and strength. Yoga is a great way to improve self-reflection and self-awareness. 

 

Conclusion

Whether you are new in addiction recovery or have been away from harmful substances for many years, there are several proven benefits to getting regular exercise. Physical activity can help shift the tide on those negative emotions that come with withdrawal and bring you some positive results.

As stated before, research shows that exercise releases endorphins to the body, creating a natural high. These are the same type of endorphins people have released when they are abusing substances.The endorphin “high” is a pleasant bonus that may help a person stick to these good habits. Although endorphins are not a “cure-all”, boosting endorphins may be an effective way to increase overall well-being, which will help pave the road to a healthy recovery.

With a personalized fitness plan, recovering individuals are more likely to have success during treatment and maintain a healthy exercise habit once they re-enter society.

 


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