The Role of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

The Role of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

No one appreciates a good “high” like an addict. But while the high produced by drugs and alcohol destroys your physical and emotional health, a natural high can actually help you heal.

You’ve probably heard of the “runner’s high” and dismissed it as far inferior to the euphoria produced by drugs. But research shows that exercise can release the brain’s natural opiates such as dopamine and endorphins, producing a powerful rush of feel-good chemicals. This means you can feel good without drugs and alcohol in your life.

A Healthy Habit

Exercise can play an important role in recovering from addiction and preventing relapse. It provides a healthy distraction and positive coping mechanism when temptations to use drugs arise. People who exercise regularly also report the following benefits:

  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep quality and quantity
  • Greater tolerance for anger, tension and stress and ability to relax
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer and arthritis
  • Weight loss and toned muscles
  • Higher self-esteem and sense of self-control
  • Better sex life
  • Increased energy, strength, flexibility, balance and endurance

Most importantly, an exercise high doesn’t carry the negative consequences and side effects that drugs do. Rather than feeling worse in the long run, exercise will help you feel better – plus you’ll be prolonging the best years of your life. If you crave more exercise, you’re actually doing yourself a favor.

All of these benefits have led a number of drug rehab centers to provide patients with gym memberships and daily access to fitness classes, yoga, outdoor activities and sports. Many also include exercise as part of continuing care and relapse prevention plans.

Making Exercise a Priority

The one difficulty with exercise is that you need a longer term perspective to appreciate the necessity of a daily workout. You have to accept the pain in order to get the pleasure, whereas with drugs you get the pleasure up front and deal with the pain of withdrawal and cravings later.

Many people have to drag themselves to the gym and force themselves through a session on the elliptical before they remember how good it feels to be active. Studies confirm that we overestimate the unpleasantness of exercise and underestimate how good we’ll feel after a workout.

The good news is that when you exercise frequently, you establish a habit. Rather than evaluating the pros and cons of leaving work, family or the comfort of home to get in a workout, you’ll just get up and go. Also, the more you experience the high of a strenuous workout, the more you’ll easily recall the benefits of your hard work.

In drug rehab, you likely learned how to control your own thoughts to change how you feel and behave. The same principles that motivate you to stay drug-free can help you commit to an exercise regimen. Focus on the fun parts of your workout and the deep, consequence-free satisfaction you gain by doing something healthy for yourself.

Recovering from addiction requires a commitment to better overall health and significant lifestyle changes. Exercise can be a daily reminder to put your health and your recovery first.

Addicts are notorious for seeking immediate gratification and wallowing in our own self-pity, but we stand to benefit even more than most from regular exercise. You may not want to exercise, but research shows you’ll be happier, healthier and more firmly grounded in your recovery if you do it anyway.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

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