Exercise for Addiction Survivors: Benefits and Recommendations

Doctors recommend exercise for a huge range of ailments, ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes. What most people don’t realize, however, is exercise can also help another condition: addiction. Recently, many studies have shown that physical exercise can help people throughout addiction recovery. That’s because exercise has a healing effect on the brain, reducing stress and boosting your mood.Have you or a loved one been struggling with addiction? If so, keep reading to learn why exercise can help and how you can create a personalized fitness routine to enjoy these benefits in a safe, effective way:

Getting Centered

When most people think of exercise and fitness, they’re probably imagining someone lifting weights or running a marathon. That might be the perfect workout plan for many individuals, but there are many other options out there if weight lifting and running aren’t for you. Some people prefer slower, gentler fitness routines. Yoga and pilates, for example, can gradually help you build lean muscles and improve your balance. These meditative exercises also provide a very important role in addiction recovery. Among other benefits, mindfulness and meditation can reduce your body’s stress response, helping you cope with triggers and cravings without giving in to the desire to use or drink.

If you’re interested in starting a daily yoga or meditation practice, look no further than your very own home. You can create a calming space at home in a spare room, basement, or open space. Try to find a space that’s quiet, distraction-free, and doesn’t get much traffic from other members of the home. You can decorate the space with clean, simple feng shuidesign or install some mood lighting to help soothe your mind. If you’re having trouble finding the perfect space to focus in your home, you could also take a class at a local yoga or meditation studio. Most studios have affordable drop-in rates on classes that are suitable for beginners or practitioners of all levels.

Healing the Brain

Substance abuse impacts several different areas of the brain. Substances mainly affect those areas that are associated with reward, pleasure, decision-making, and memory. Over time, these parts of the brain become damaged. That’s part of the reason why addiction survivors often experience impulsive behaviors, memory loss, and mental health problems such as depression.

The good news is that exercise can help undo some of that damage. One published study explains thatexercise affectsthe very same areas as substance abuse. The difference, however, is that exercise provides a healing, rather than damaging effect. By sticking to a regular exercise program, you can help improve your memory, reduce your risk of mental health problems, and possibly even make more rational decisions.

Coping with Stress

There’s a reason why stress reduction is a key part of any recovery program. Anyone who’s lived with addiction probably realizes that a heightened state of stress increases the likelihood of relapse. Luckily, exercise can help you cope with stress in several ways.

First, exercise directly reduces stress levels by triggering the release of endorphins, which immediately boost your mood. Even just a few minutes of exercise can create a noticeable shift in your mood. In addition to those mood-enhancing properties, exercise can reduce your stress response in the moment. That means you’re more resilient when faced with difficult or even stressful situations. As an added bonus, those workouts can help you sleep better at night, which is crucial to reducing stress throughout your day.

Planning a Program

Although any type of exercise will help your body, the research on exercise and addiction recovery has focused on aerobic exercise. Therefore, aerobic exercise - which gets the heart beating and the blood flowing - is a great place to start your fitness journey. Regardless of whether you create a diverse workout or focus your efforts on one specific type of exercise, be patient with yourself and start with an easy routine. Because substance abuse affects your cardiovascular health, it’s especially important for those in recovery to participate in a shorter, lighter routine at first. Allow your body to adjust to your current routine and then gradually ramp up the time or intensity.

If you’re unsure of how to get started, there are many medically-endorsed options out there. The American Heart Association’s six-week walking plan for beginners is a great program to start with or you could perform a quick Google search for another program to suit your needs. If a program seems too easy for you, try slowly increasing your walking speed to light jogging. To stay safe, keep a moderate pace as you increase speeds. A general rule is that you should be able to hold a conversation without losing your breath.

Before starting any new fitness routine, be sure to check with your doctor. Each person is different and your particular health history should be taken into account when finding an exercise plan to suit your needs. After a few months of physical activity, you should have a good base level of fitness. At that point, you might try more vigorous activities, higher intensities, or longer workout intervals.

Making Health a Priority

To get the most out of exercise, you should combine it with other healthy habits. That includes eating a healthy diet rich in foods such as vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Because you’re working out, make sure you’re getting enough protein from healthy sources such as fish, eggs, legumes, or lean, unprocessed meats. Speaking of unprocessed foods, it’s a good idea overall to try and keep your intake of processed foods to a minimum.

One of the best benefits of exercise for those in addiction recovery is that it is empowering. You’ll be living with the knowledge that you are the one putting yourself through your paces each week. You are making an active choice to prioritize your own health. Best of all, you’ll gradually gain confidence over time as you start to see results - and you’ll take pride in knowing that those results are due to your own efforts. To get started on this healthier path to recovery, go ahead and plan your first walking program, then put your shoes on and go!



from Dylan Foster