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Why Exercise Matters to Addiction Recovery

Published On: August 1st, 2023Categories: Spectrum Corrections, Treatment & Recovery

Fitness and exercise might not be the first things that come to mind when considering the most important aspects of recovery. But the impact that physical fitness and exercise can have on people recovering from addiction is substantial. Exercise can be a strong resource for relapse prevention, and there are numerous mental and physical health benefits of breaking a sweat. Here are some of the ways exercise contributes to recovery.

The Role of Exercise in Substance Use Recovery

  • Easing Cravings and Withdrawal Symptoms – Along with reducing things like stress, anxiety, and depression, exercise can ease cravings for substances. It can also lessen withdrawal symptoms like restlessness, irritability, and clamminess. The reason for this is because exercise, like substance use, activates the brain’s reward pathway, releasing chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. When these chemical reactions occur in response to a healthy activity like exercise, it lessens the pain and discomfort of withdrawal while also cutting down cravings.
  • Boosting Self-Esteem and Mental Wellness – The mental and emotional benefits of exercise go beyond simple chemical reactions. When people engage in a physical fitness routine, they burn fat, build muscle, boost energy levels, and increase stamina. These changes help people feel more confident and accomplished, providing an additional sense of value to their recovery journey.
  • Routine and Structure – Fitness routines encourage consistency and personal dedication. There is also very often a social aspect of exercise that enriches the individual’s sense of community. Having a regular fitness outlet is a key part of many people’s treatment plan because it replaces idle time where they may have been susceptible to relapse with gratifying activities that help keep their recovery on track.
  • Better Sleep – For many people in recovery—especially those in early recovery—sleep doesn’t always come easily. Exercise can help regulate the sleep cycle, making it easier to fall asleep and making sleep more restful. Healthy sleep is critical to proper brain function and mental wellbeing, enhancing recovery by improving decision making, lowering stress levels, and helping regulate emotions.

Exercises that Benefit Addiction Recovery

While some people have an established exercise or recreation interest—like golf, basketball, tennis, or martial arts—others may still be searching for a fitness outlet. When deciding on a fitness routine, it’s important to consider activities one enjoys, rather than just activities that provide physical results. Having the motivation to stick with a routine is important, and people are more likely to commit to a fitness routine they enjoy.

  • Aerobics – Aerobic exercises promote heart health and can be especially effective for curbing withdrawal symptoms. Activities like walking, cycling, and jogging are a great place to start. Swimming also offers excellent aerobic benefits, especially with much of the country experiencing high summer temperatures.
  • Resistance and Strength Training – Resistance and strength training build muscle and improve flexibility among other things. Many resistance exercises appeal to people because they can be performed in small spaces and with few resources. Exercises like lunges, sit-ups, stretches, and yoga routines produce positive results and are easy to do with limited space.
  • Personal Interests – Fitness doesn’t need to be confined to any predetermined boxes. Things like dancing, climbing, surfing, hiking, geocaching, bird watching, and any number of other activities can help people meet their fitness goals. Even light physical activity offers benefits like improved joint strength and cardiovascular function.

Getting Started with Fitness in Recovery

When incorporating a fitness routine into one’s recovery, it can be helpful to start small and work up from there. Setting a low-pressure schedule for regular physical activity and adding to it over time can be a good way to prevent fatigue and burnout.

Drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest, and being mindful of one’s limitations­—especially when exercising in high temperatures—are also crucial to healthy fitness routines. But with a consistent and fulfilling exercise plan, recovery can be that much more manageable and rewarding.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.

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