Addiction recovery summons up images of painful withdrawal symptoms and the physical manifestations of a disease that ravages every aspect of an addict’s life. Recovery is a complex, holistic process that never truly ends – addicts constantly struggle with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual challenges of addiction. While there’s no simple cure, regular exercise confers benefits that are known to be effective in helping addicts maintain a healthy lifestyle. Exercise helps ward off behavioral triggers that can lead to chemical dependency and restores the broken connection between mind and body.
It’s amazing how something as simple as movement can help alleviate tension and the everyday causes of stress. And you don’t need to run a marathon or scale a mountain. For the recovering addict, exercise can mean spending a few minutes each day running or tossing a Frisbee. Even washing dishes or vacuuming the carpet can provide enough physical activity to work off negative emotions and frustrations that may lead to self-destructive behavior. Whatever you choose, focusing on a little exercise creates physical and emotional energy and gives you a healthy outlet for stress.
You’ve probably heard people say that exercise just makes them feel better. There’s a well-documented physiological rationale for that feeling, and it involves brain chemistry. Exercise releases endorphins, which gives you a kind of natural high. Ironically, endorphins are also released by drugs and alcohol, though that kind of high creates an unhealthy imbalance. If you’re working toward recovery, exercise can reintroduce endorphins into your system naturally, making you feel good and “reprogramming” your system to regulate your brain chemistry without artificial stimulation.
Blowing off a little steam
Exercise is also an excellent way to blow off some steam. If you’re a recovering addict, the stress of trying to maintain sobriety while dealing with personal issues and day-to-day details can cause the tension to build … and challenge your will power. Exercise has a calming effect that makes it easier to think clearly, manage anger and place problems in their proper context.
Focus on ‘the burn’
Runners often say there’s a serene, almost meditative quality to running. There’s substantial support for that claim. The Mayo Clinic describes running and other forms of physical exercise as “meditation in motion,” meaning that ridding yourself of the day’s tensions through this form of physical activity gives you better focus and clarity, as well as energy and a general feeling of optimism. You may experience a calmness that helps you overcome stress and better manage your emotions when life gets chaotic.
Work out for well-being
Human physiology is remarkable for its ability to recalibrate when you’re exercising – you emerge from physical activity slightly different than when you began. The result is a more self-confident you, and diminished feelings of tension, anxiety and depression. A good workout is an accomplishment, an investment in yourself that pays immediate dividends. An individual with an enhanced sense of self-worth is less likely to return to addictive behavior, which is why the benefits of sobriety are never more self-evident than after you’ve worked up a good sweat. “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong,” said Michael Otto, a psychology professor from Boston University. “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood enhancement effect.”
There are many stories of how people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction used exercise to turn their lives around. Todd Crandell, an addictions counselor, had a promising professional hockey career ahead of him. Instead, a DUI convinced him that it was time to seek help for an addiction that he knew could have killed him or someone else. When he finally walked away from substance abuse, Crandell immediately turned to what he’d learned from his athletic training: exercise, physical fitness and nutrition. He began lifting weights and established a healthy diet. Today, he runs a fitness program to help recovering addicts stay sober.
Actor Daniel Baldwin, a recovering drug addict, and Brent Smith, singer for the band Shinedown, both got great results from a vigorous exercise regimen. Baldwin noted that kettlebell weight training has been key to helping him avoid relapsing.
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