The mind-body connection is like a two-way street between your brain and body. Your emotions, thoughts, and behavior can affect your physical well-being and vice versa. For example, when you are anxious or stressed, you're likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to feel good. But in the long run, substance abuse can cause a spectrum of short- and long-term health issues. That's why mind-body principles are a big part of the addiction treatment and recovery movement. The 12 Steps of AA, NA, CA, etc., feature concepts like letting go, meditation, surrender, and gratitude, all critical components of mind-body medicine.
For years, physical activity has also been seen as a complementary therapy in addiction treatment. Numerous research, with more continuing to emerge, shows exercise, in different forms and intensities, can be a game-changer during addiction recovery. One review of existing literature on exercise and its relationship to substance use found that regular physical activity was linked to lowered use in about 75% of the studies. The review looked at 43 studies with over 3,000 participants and discovered decreased depressive symptoms and improved markers of physical health.
Regular exercise can serve as a healthy alternative to addictive substances. That's because exercise and drugs/alcohol work on the same parts of your brain. They both activate the reward center and trigger the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. While there's still a need for more research to establish how fitness helps in recovery, studies show it might:
Triggers are situations, places, or emotions that can lead to cravings and relapse. Exercise provides a healthy distraction from these triggers, giving you a different focus and channeling your energy into a positive activity. Engaging in physical activity can also create new routines and patterns that break the cycle of addiction, replacing negative associations with positive ones.
Cravings are intense urges to use a substance, often triggered by stress, boredom, or negative emotions. Exercise can help manage these cravings in several ways. It releases endorphins, natural mood boosters that can counteract the adverse effects of stress and anxiety, reducing the intensity of cravings. Additionally, exercise can be mentally engaging, taking your mind off the craving and allowing it to pass naturally.
Withdrawal symptoms can be challenging, often including fatigue, pain, and insomnia. Physical workout can relieve these symptoms by improving circulation, reducing pain perception, and promoting better sleep. It can also boost mood and energy levels, making it easier to cope with the discomfort of withdrawal.
Sleep disturbances are common in addiction recovery, further impacting mood and stress levels. When done at the right time of day, exercise can significantly improve sleep quality. Regular physical activity regulates circadian system, and makes it easier to fall asleep. Additionally, the calming and stress-reducing effects of exercise can further contribute to better sleep.
Exercise can help you learn, think, focus, problem-solve, and enjoy an emotional balance. It can also improve cognitive function because it increases the flow of blood to the brain, and stimulate the growth of new brain cells. This makes it an effective remedy in addiction recovery since addiction tends to impair cognitive function.
Setting and achieving fitness goals, no matter how small, instills a sense of accomplishment. This positive reinforcement spills over into other areas of life, empowering you to believe in your ability to overcome challenges. The discipline required for regular exercise translates into improved self-control, a valuable asset in maintaining sobriety.
Exercise can be a game-changer in your recovery journey, offering many benefits beyond physical fitness. Here are some workout ideas, routines, and insights to integrate into your daily routine to help you in your recovery journey:
Running, swimming, biking, or dancing are fantastic ways to release endorphins, combat stress, and improve mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise or moderate-intensity cardio most days.
Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi combine physical movement with meditation, promoting focus, relaxation, and emotional well-being. These practices can be beneficial for managing cravings and anxiety.
Hiking, biking, or simply spending time outdoors can be incredibly therapeutic. Immersing yourself in nature reduces stress, improves mood, and provides peace and perspective.
From managing mental health disorders to improving brain health, regular physical activity offers a range of benefits. However, there are a few things to take note of to enjoy the many benefits of exercise in recovery:
Remember, working out isn’t just about physical fitness; it's about self-care, empowerment, and building a healthier, happier life. Exercise is an excellent stress reliever – and this makes it an important tool in recovery. Experiment with different activities to find what works for you. And don't hesitate to seek help from a personal trainer, therapist, or addiction recovery specialist. They can provide guidance and support on your journey.