Recovery from substance abuse is extremely stressful both physically and mentally. While most treatments for addiction involve verbal counseling, some addicts may benefit from a more physical, hands-on form of recovery.
Treating drug addiction is not a one-size-fits-all solution. While there are a variety of different types of treatment and counseling, recovering addicts can often experience greater results by sticking with a consistent fitness routine. And, the science is there to back it up.
Studies show that fitness not only reduces the chances of relapse but also improves mood, increases energy, and helps heal the body from physical and cognitive damage from substance abuse. Researchers have studied various treatments to determine which one works best, and it poses the question…
Can Exercise Help Conquer Addiction?
The short answer is, yes.
Combined with what scientists already know about treatments, exercise shows great promise. A small study in humans investigated an exercise program presented to 40 men and women who abused a variety of substances such as opioids, amphetamines, and cocaine. The forms of physical exercise used consisted of weight training or exercise bike workouts three times a week.
When reevaluated one year later, five people reported abstinence and 10 people reported that they had significantly decreased their drug use.
Workouts can help recovering addicts in various ways. Not only does it add structure to the day, but it also helps form positive social connections and improves your health in several ways as explained further in this article.
Is It Recommended to Combined Exercise with Other Treatments?
Staying on long-term medication-assisted treatment is recommended especially for people who have severe substance addiction. Researchers have found a greater than 50% chance of relapsing on opioids just one month after discontinuing treatment.
Group activities such as yoga or outdoor hiking is a great entry point for addicts who want to use fitness as a recovery tool. Not only does it help heal the mind and body, but it’s also a fantastic way to socialize with other health-conscious individuals.
If you have a serious drug addiction, please consult with your addiction counselor about your current medication-assisted treatment and seek their advice about using exercise to help with recovery before making any drastic workout commitments.
Effects of Exercise During Withdrawal
Withdrawal is one of the hardest stages to go through as an addict. Symptoms can vary in intensity depending on the individual and substance he/she is withdrawing from. Feelings of extreme fatigue, anger, depression, and even digestive problems are common symptoms that can make life feel like an uphill battle.
Exercise is a great way to help mitigate the side effects of withdrawal. Health experts suggest it’s a great way to help the detoxing process and improves both physical and cognitive function, making withdrawal more tolerable.
Studies have shown that moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercises can be an effective and persistent treatment for addicts in recovery.
Exercise for Relapse Prevention
Exercise is widely researched as a treatment for reducing the risk of relapse to addiction and has been proven to reduce drug cravings and improve treatment outcomes.
For example, people recovering from alcohol abuse who have completed the withdrawal phase of detox experienced fewer urges to drink when they followed a consistent workout schedule.
8 Science-Backed Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery
If you don’t have the time or resources to purchase or join a fitness routine, there are several ways to work exercise and healthy habits into your daily routine.
The first step is to consistently find opportunities to be active. Whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking in the farthest spot outside of the store or at work to get more steps in, making it a habit to add movement into your life is a great way to start.
A large body of research has proven that exercise can help addicts’ recovery in more ways than one.
Here are eight proven benefits of exercise in addiction recovery:
1) Stress Reduction
Stress plays a huge role in addiction recovery. When it isn’t addressed properly, it can lead to a relapse. Exercise has been shown to alleviate both physical and psychological stress. Tension can build up no matter where life takes you and committing to a consistent workout schedule allows you to get rid of any negative emotions you may have been keeping in.
Focused exercise uses up both emotional and physical energy that may otherwise find unhealthy ways of escaping.
2) Better Sleep
Struggling to fall asleep at night is not uncommon during addiction recovery. In fact, many people started abusing drugs and alcohol in the hopes that it would help them sleep. Studies have shown that regular exercise can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep you get every night.
3) Positively Alters Brain Chemistry
During exercise, your body releases endorphins and restores various neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood, energy, and mental well-being. These same endorphins are released when substances are abused, although, drug abuse causes an imbalance of these brain chemicals that hinders an addict’s ability to feel pleasure and happiness.
A dedicated workout schedule can help restore the natural levels of neurotransmitters and endorphins in your system to help rebalance your body’s brain chemistry in a healthy and natural way.
4) Increased Energy
When someone is physically and mentally exhausted, usually the last thing they want to do is exercise. But research shows that exercising can help boost energy levels. Instead of waiting for the motivation to work out to appear, making it a habit to exercise even when you’re feeling fatigued will provide your body with boundless energy.
Extreme fatigue is common during recovery. Maintaining a consistent exercise schedule can help an addict’s energy levels tremendously and can provide a sense of rejuvenation to stay productive and drug-free.
5) Provides Structure
One of the most common triggers for relapse is boredom. When addicts are going through recovery, it’s important to replace the time that was once spent on substance abuse with something healthy. Attending a yoga or aerobics class, even if it’s just a few times a week, will provide a productive structure to an addict’s daily routine and can motivate them to stick with healthy habits.
6) Improves Mood and Mental Clarity
Mood changes are common with addiction recovery. Exercising can help addicts adjust to their new circumstances by retraining the body to naturally produce the “feel-good” chemicals that were sought artificially in substances. It releases endorphins in the brain, which provides feelings of well-being and happiness.
7) Heals Your Body
Studies have proven that exercise can heal your body whether you’re in recovery or not. Sticking to a fitness routine long-term helps with cardiovascular health, lowers the risk of cancer, and improves your body’s immune system.
8) Prevents Relapse
One of the greatest benefits of exercise during recovery is its ability to prevent a return to substance abuse. Several studies have proven that regular exercise can increase the abstinence rate for substance use by up to 95%. The research also concludes that fitness can help manage stress, depression, and anxiety, which all contribute to relapse.
Effective Forms of Fitness
The beauty in exercise is, there is something for everyone. We encourage recovering addicts to find a form of fitness that they’re interested in most. This way, when resistance rears its ugly head—and it will—it’s much easier to stick with it long-term.
Here are some of our favorites for recovering addicts:
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for total mind and body rejuvenation. Not only is it amazing for your body, but it also fuses practices of meditation as well. Yoga teaches you to focus on the present moment, allowing you to let go of any stresses that come with recovery.
It’s a great tool to increase your mental fortitude and can help you learn to calm your mind and ease your anxieties.
A great way to start a yoga routine is by joining a class near you. The group setting will motivate you to stick with it and reap the profound benefits. If you’d like to do it in the comfort of your own home, various online guides can help you get started.
Perhaps one of the greatest full-body exercises, swimming is a great way to recover from addiction and burn calories at the same time. But it doesn’t always have to be a physically strenuous exercise!
Swimming is a great option for addicts who have physical pain following their substance abuse because water makes your body buoyant. This provides relief to joints and muscles and can be extremely relaxing.
Whether you’re doing laps at a local pool, joining in water aerobics, or floating around in the ocean, swimming is a great way to keep the addict’s mind at ease.
Getting on the dance floor is a great way to de-stress and can play a wonderful role in your recovery fitness routine. Dancing not only lowers stress, improves mood, and increases energy, but it can also be a great way to socialize and let loose while enjoying the company of friends and family.
Whatever style of dancing you choose, it’s a great form of fitness that provides a healthy escape from the stresses of recovery.
Simply being outside in nature has profound therapeutic effects for recovery. You don’t necessarily have to hike a mountain to benefit from it either!
Even just going for a long walk in the park or woods is an excellent way to bask in the sun (resulting in improved mood from vitamin D), get fresh air, and gain some introspective insights to help addicts on their road to recovery.
Fitness Is One of the Most Effective Natural Healing Tools for Addicts
Regardless of what stage an addict is in—one thing is for certain—exercise is an excellent element in one’s journey to recovery from substance abuse.
Research has proven time and time again that working out not only decreases an addict’s chances of relapsing but also helps heal both the body and brain from damage caused by drugs.
It’s important to note that if someone with severe drug addiction is going through medication-assisted treatment, that they stay on the treatment in conjunction with a consistent exercise schedule to speed up the recovery process without any harmful side effects that may come from certain drug withdrawals.
In addition, keeping a healthy balance and being mindful not to replace one addiction with another is crucial. While exercise can be beneficial to people in recovery, long-term sobriety can be hindered if your exercise routine becomes obsessive and substitutes for your previous addictive behaviors.
Whether it’s a hot yoga class, a long walk in the park, or setting up a dance routine at the comfort of your own home—fitness can help addicts recover from drug abuse and return to living their happiest, healthiest lives.
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