Experiencing success in addiction recovery requires a person to address their physical, mental, and emotional needs. Addiction can take its toll on a person’s overall health and finding ways to reverse the damage is critical to recovery. Substance abuse is especially damaging to a person’s physical health. While abstaining from substance use will inevitably provide benefits, actively making changes to improve physical health is important to maintaining sobriety long-term.
Exercise has numerous benefits for those in recovery. As addiction treatment evolves to take a more holistic approach to recovery, exercise has earned its place as a vital piece of the treatment puzzle. In addition to the countless benefits it has for physical health, exercise provides a healthy outlet for many other needs. It provides a positive outlet for stress and negative emotions, improves feelings of restfulness, and helps a person develop self-confidence and self-esteem through their accomplishments.
Many of the changes a person must undergo, especially in early recovery, may seem unbearable. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings alone make recovery difficult at times. Those in recovery benefit greatly from adding exercise to their habits early-on as it provides numerous positive side effects that improve the recovery experience.
Benefits of Exercise for Those in Recovery
There are countless ways exercise helps a person through recovery. Many of the benefits found early in recovery continue to be beneficial for long-term health. Developing these habits during this time can help a person establish a foundation for a healthy lifestyle moving forward. The positive benefits of regular exercise can be applied to any experience in life and can help in the management of long-term sobriety.
- Exercising provides structure: Having set activities and a schedule can keep someone on track. It can provide them with an easy out if they are faced with temptation and it takes up time previously used to acquire and abuse substances. Many cite feeling stagnant or bored as a reason for relapse. They may have more time on their hands and they do not know what to do with it. Exercise can help fill that time and can help a person develop self-discipline and motivation to move forward in sobriety.
- Reduced levels of stress: Drugs and alcohol are often used as tools to escape stress. While this may provide temporary relief, it will eventually fade away. Instead, drugs and alcohol become a source of stress and worsen your mood. Stress does not go away when substance abuse does. Instead, finding healthy ways to manage stress is imperative to success. Exercise is an effective way to reduce stress. While exercising, the brain releases chemicals that improve mood and lower levels of stress. It also serves as a great outlet for dealing with difficult emotions. Exerting yourself and your energy into exercise is more productive and a healthier way to cope with triggers.
- Improved mood: In addition to reducing stress, the chemicals released in the brain during exercise also boost mood. Especially in early recovery, a person’s mood can shift a lot as they adjust to life without the influence of substances. Working out encourages the release of endorphins that produce positive feelings. Dealing with all of the changes they will inevitably face in recovery can be difficult, but exercise can help provide balance to an unsettling time. It promotes healthy habits, provides a positive outlet for stress, and is an excellent coping mechanism.
- Exercising heals the body and mind: Exercise is a positive way to get physically and mentally healthy whether or not you are recovering from addiction. Many people may cite feeling out of shape, not having enough time, or other obstacles to committing to exercise. Rather than becoming comfortable in excuses, finding ways to make exercise a part of your life is critical to success. Substance abuse can cause extensive damage physically and mentally. Exercising is shown to help improve connections in the brain, stimulate the immune system, and alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions.
- Reduced drug-seeking behavior: While quitting use of drugs or alcohol is the best choice you can make for your overall wellbeing, there will inevitably be some negative side effects that may appear early in recovery. For example, many find that substances prevented their unhealthy habits from affecting their weight. It’s not uncommon for people to begin gaining weight and using things like food to address their cravings. Exercising regularly can help reduce cravings and helps many maintain a healthy weight.
- Improved sleep: Issues with sleep are not uncommon with substance abuse. A person may struggle with disrupted sleep patterns, insomnia, or oversleeping, and going through recovery can sometimes worsen that. While there are sleep aids that can assist with sleep-related issues, exercise is a natural way to improve quality of sleep. As sleep improves, so does a person’s alertness and wakefulness throughout the day.
- Feeling more energized: Substance abuse can cause a person to become more lethargic and inactive. As a person withdraws from substances, this can be worsened as they struggle with withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Exercising pushes the body to use energy more efficiently, helping a person have the energy to manage everyday responsibilities.