The early stages of addiction recovery can leave you feeling anxious, stressed, hypersensitive, and depressed. Feeling this way can make you feel like you need to drink alcohol or use drugs, but there’s a better way to cope with these emotions: exercise.
Benefits of Exercise For Addiction Recovery
Physical activity encourages the brain to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins. In addition to reducing stress, these chemicals create euphoric feelings that provide you with a general sense of well-being. Because of this, exercise can help you get through challenging days, emotional distress, painful circumstances, and uncomfortable situations without turning to alcohol or drugs. Here are 10 reasons that exercise can play a role in your recovery from drugs and alcohol.
1. Exercise can be a stress-reliever
Stress is one of the main triggers of relapse, but it’s also a part of life. This means that in order to avoid relapse, you have to find a healthy way to cope with stress. Exercise has been scientifically proven to help relieve physical and psychological stress. Physical activity does this by relieving tension in the mind and body.
As you go about your day, tension builds in your body. This tension could be the result of poor posture, a difficult interaction with someone, or emotional distress. Moving your body helps alleviate this tension, allowing you to get rid of any negative emotions you’ve been holding onto. Moving your body requires physical and emotional energy. When you use that energy, you decrease your risk of using that same energy to drink, use drugs, or find other unhealthy ways to cope with your stress.
2. Exercise can naturally and positively alter your brain chemistry
Addiction negatively affects the brain by making it rely on addictive substances for pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction. When you detox from those substances, your brain develops a chemical imbalance that can interfere with your ability to experience those positive feelings, triggering anxiety, depression, loneliness, and dissatisfaction. The endorphins released during exercise create a natural high. Doing some form of physical activity on a consistent basis will help reintroduce natural levels of endorphins back into your system. This will not only help you feel better but will also help your brain regulate its own chemical balance, helping you to maintain a positive outlook and balance your mood.
3. Exercise can function as meditation in motion
Many experts agree that exercise is a form of “meditation in motion.” This means that physical fitness can provide the same psychological and emotional benefits that meditation does. When you move your body, your thoughts shift to your well-being, allowing you to temporarily forget everything that’s going on in your life. This clarity can help you remain clear-headed as you face daily challenges, helping you to avoid relapse. The meditative benefits of exercise can also help you feel more rejuvenated and optimistic, which can help you stay encouraged, motivated, and find the recovery process more manageable.
4. Exercise can make you less susceptible to cravings
Dealing with cravings can be one of the most challenging aspects of addiction recovery. Exercise can help by making you less susceptible to cravings. When you’re active, blood quickly moves through the heart, increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients flowing to your muscles. This increased nourishment increases your energy levels. The more energy you have, the more vitality you’ll have when it’s time to resist the urge to drink alcohol or use drugs.
5. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy structure and routine
Once you stop using drugs and alcohol, you may have a lot of free time on your hands. This free time can be a blessing or curse depending on how you use it. Developing an exercise routine can help turn free time into a blessing. In addition to helping you develop and maintain a balanced lifestyle, routines and structure can help you develop healthy habits that can help you achieve long-term sobriety. Exercise is one of those habits.
In addition to providing you accountability, exercise classes and a physical fitness regimen can:
- Minimize the temptation to stay up late and drink or use drugs
- Distract you during happy hour and other moments when cravings are high
- Help you avoid poor decisions about what to do in your spare time
- Help you redirect your thoughts toward your physical health
- Learn how to plan, work toward, and achieve healthy goals
6. Exercise can help boost your mood
As you recover from drugs and alcohol, mood swings can be a common occurrence. One moment you might feel motivated and hopeful and the next moment you might feel anxious, terrified, and depressed. Exercise can help stabilize and boost your mood. When you exercise, the brain releases serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. As the brain releases these chemicals, you’ll likely experience euphoric feelings, often referred to as “runner’s high.” In addition to boosting your mood, this “high” can give you a positive outlook on life. This positive outlook can encourage you and help you stay on track when the recovery process becomes challenging.
7. Exercise can help boost self-esteem and enhance your self-image
Exercise can also help boost your self-esteem. Taking good care of your body can help you feel better about yourself. Feeling this way can help you develop a positive body image, which in turn, can make you feel valuable, confident, and hopeful.
Accomplishing fitness goals can also help reinforce the idea that you can accomplish hard tasks. This belief in yourself can promote self-efficacy, which can help you resist cravings, withstand triggers, and avoid relapse.
8. Exercise can help you develop healthy relationships with others
Addiction recovery can be a lonely process. Isolation can lead to emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Enrolling in a group exercise class can be a good way to meet people who are also trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Whether you accomplish fitness goals with the people in your class or simply sweat together, working out with others can help you build relationships that are based on healthy common interests. Meeting people in this kind of environment can help you feel less compelled to re-engage with some of your old friends associated with addiction.
Some local gyms have exercise clubs and programs specifically designed for people recovering from addiction. Getting involved with one of these groups can help you stay connected with the recovery community and encourage you to stay sober.
9. Exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep
When you don’t get enough rest, you won’t be your best self. Inadequate amounts of sleep can also cause you to make poor choices that can lead to emotional or mental relapse. In fact, fatigue is one of the leading causes of relapse. That’s why sleep is such an important aspect of your recovery.
Regular exercise can help enhance the quality of your sleep. Research consistently shows that doing at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity weekly can improve the quality of your sleep by 65%. Physical fitness can also help you fall asleep faster. If you struggle with insomnia, doing 10 to 15 minutes of exercise before going to bed can cause your body to cool down at a faster rate, making it easier for you to fall asleep.
10. Exercise strengthens your body
Addiction weakens the body. In addition to negatively affecting the mind, addiction wreaks havoc on the immune system and interferes with nearly every organ in the body. Exercise can help combat these challenges by strengthening the body instead. When you exercise:
- The heart grows stronger
- Lung capacity improves
- Breathing and heart rates improve
- Circulation and oxygen levels increase
- Inflammation decreases
- New brain cells grow
- The risk of dementia decreases
All of these benefits can help you live a thriving life after addiction.
Exercise Your Way To A Better Life
Rehabilitating your life is about so much more than simply stepping away from drugs and alcohol. It’s about starting over, becoming healthier, thinking differently, managing stress in a healthy way, and making better choices. Exercise can help you do all of that and more. Whether you choose to run, walk, swim, bike, lift, garden, or hike is up to you, but exercising is one of the best ways you can take charge of your recovery. Contact us today if you want to speak with a recovery expert about specific exercises that might be a good fit for you.