There’s a reason why most addiction recovery centers include a physical fitness component. Exercise enhances the mood and eases anxiety like nothing else can. Because it triggers the release of endorphins and other feel-good chemicals, it can give a natural high to replace the artificial ones you sought with drugs and alcohol.
The bottom line is that research shows that exercise builds a happy brain and improves your mental health. This greatly helps facilitate recovery from drug/alcohol addiction as it curbs your cravings and prevents relapse. The key steps are:
1) Knowing the best types of exercise for those in recovery
2) Finding the right exercise for your needs
3) How you can you maintain an all-around healthy routine for the long-term
The Best Types of Exercise for Those in Recovery
The good news is that all exercise is beneficial, but science has shown that after 20 minutes of intense exercise, your brain releases endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). What this means for you is that the pleasure center of your brain gets reactivated. During prolonged substance abuse, the pleasure center of the brain becomes damaged, so it’s difficult to take in natural pleasure-causing chemicals including serotonin and dopamine. Exercise helps the brain to repair itself while more of these natural feel-good chemicals are released. New neurons are generated in your brain, anxiety lessens and you’ll simply find yourself feeling a lot better. It doesn’t matter if it’s running, weight training, Zumba, Crossfit, martial arts — anything that raises your heart rate. Keep it simple at first though. If you haven’t exercised in awhile, begin with walking.
Yoga is extremely beneficial. Addiction specialists have found that it gives you the skills you need to tolerate the feelings and sensations that can lead to relapses. The Betty Ford Center has offered yoga as part of its fitness regime for over 10 years. Their fitness manager says, “Yoga is a great way to slowly reintroduce someone to physical sensation. It’s also very relaxing, so in terms of the anxiety, stress, and depression that arise from detox, it’s invaluable in helping people stay calm and grounded.”
A pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that yoga may be able to change brain chemistry. It’s also effective at regulating the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Exercising with others provides an added benefit because it can help you rebuild a social network that isn’t centered around drinking or drug use.
The Best Exercise for You
The best exercise is any exercise you enjoy, so explore until you find your thing. It can be Ping-Pong, salsa dancing, Pilates, anything that gets you up and moving. If you have no interest in going to a gym, no worries! Get your hands on a yoga mat, resistance bands and perhaps a few free weights and a Bosu ball.
Also, there are plenty of YouTube videos that offer instructional workouts to boost your strength and endurance. The American Heart Association recommends that you spend 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise.
Maintaining an All-Around Healthy Routine for the Long Term
- Hand in hand with exercise is good nutrition. Eating a balanced diet low in refined sugar and high in protein and complex carbohydrates is crucial.
- Getting enough sleep is a must. During deep and REM sleep, the brain regulates all of its chemicals and resets the neurotransmitter systems.
- Rounding out your healthy routine is finding a spiritual practice that works for you. Research has shown that for some, religion and individual spirituality can directly improve your physical and mental health.
Rebuilding your life takes courage, dedication and the right tools. Exercise and an all-around healthy routine are some of the most effective tools you can add to your recovery toolbox. By following the practices above, you’ll be making habits that will serve you the rest of your life. You’ll find yourself feeling balanced, less stressed and best of all, you’ll be building a happy, healthy life in recovery.
Constance Ray started Recoverywell.org with the goal of creating a safe place for people to share how addiction has affected them, whether they are combating it themselves or watching someone they care about work to overcome it. The goal is to share stories of hope from survivors who know that the fight against addiction is one worth having, because no matter how it affects you, life can get better.