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You attend therapy and group therapy. You attend nutrition therapy. You even attend art and music therapy.
You do everything they tell you will help you in recovery.
But do you ever put on your walking shoes and take a stroll around your neighborhood? Have you rolled out your yoga mat lately and said, “Namaste?”
Most recovery programs include suggestions for incorporating exercise. Maybe you heard the message and ignored it because, well, you don’t really like exercise.
What if we could show you how amazing exercise is when you’re recovering from drug or alcohol addiction?
Read our mini-guide and learn why exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and your chances of being successful in recovery.
Exercise and Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal, the first phase of detox is an unpleasant time for an addict.
Withdrawal takes place when an addict stops using drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the individual and the substance associated with the addiction.
One of the most powerful withdrawal symptoms happens when an addict craves more of the substance. During early recovery, craving can make the addict feel like the only thing they can do is satisfy the craving by using.
Withdrawal symptoms also include one or more of the following:
- Feelings of desperation
- Mood swings
Some addicts experience sweating, headaches, and muscle pain.
Different substances cause different withdrawal symptoms. For example, people going through heroin detox might have intense cravings but they also might experience nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, fast heart rate, and high blood pressure.
Exercise can reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
The brain on drugs gets its endorphins from whatever substance the addict uses. Endorphins help relieve pain. The also cause feelings of pleasure or euphoria.
During detox, the brain (and body) look for their endorphin fix.
During exercise, the body releases endorphins. This endorphin release helps alleviate depression, a symptom common for addicts in recovery.
Another brain chemical, galanin releases during exercise. Galanin helps lower stress-related cravings.
Exercise helps reduce the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal but it also helps the body heal from addiction.
Healing for Your Body
Exercise, in general, is good for your body. But recovering addicts who participate in fitness programs can find it even more beneficial than normal.
Substance abuse results in a wide range of negative effects on physical health.
Exercise may help the body heal from the damage done to it by substance abuse. The human body can heal itself but exercise increases the body’s natural healing abilities.
The body on exercise can heal quicker from things as common as a cold. People who exercise may experience faster healing of wounds. Fitness lovers also have better cardiovascular health and often better sex lives.
Exercise offers addicts global healing effects. Improved physical health is just one healing effect of exercise but the brain benefits as well.
Healing for Your Brain
Clearly, exercise helps the body, whether you’re in recovery or not but it also helps heal the brain.
It doesn’t matter what substance a person uses, eventually, the substance makes its way to the brain. Once they reach the brain, substances change the brain’s chemistry. Brain chemistry must change so the body can experience the effect of the drug.
Over the long-term, substance abuse can cause your brain to not function properly. Negative effects of substance abuse on the brain may include:
- Inability to learn or start new tasks
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Inability to prioritize and plan
- Problems with memory
- Difficulty carrying on a coherent conversation
- Loss of emotional control
If this all sounds a bit frightening, consider this—exercise can help your brain heal from the harmful effects of drug abuse. Most brain function you lose while involved in using drugs can be regained if you exercise.
Over time your body and your brain can return to a healthy state and exercise can play a significant role in that return to health.
Many people in recovery find exercise also helps restore a normal sleep schedule.
Catch Better Zzzs
Sleep problems are a common side effect of recovery, especially early recovery.
It doesn’t matter whether the substance was a stimulant or a depressant when you stop using, sleep suffers. You might have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. You might need long naps during the day when that wasn’t a pattern for you previously.
This disturbance in sleep can make you feel sluggish and tired.
There are several things you can do that help you sleep better. One of them is avoiding caffeine for several hours before bed. But the most effective sleep remedy is regular exercise.
Regular exercise helps you get more hours of quality sleep. Regular exercise also helps eliminate the need for long naps during the day. Just like babies who nap all day and stay up all night, adults who sleep too much during the day are wide awake eyes at night.
When your nighttime sleep improves and you get more sound sleep, you may also notice you don’t feel so sluggish during the day. This gives you oomph needed for tackling your life as a recovering addict.
Enjoying the good effects of exercise on sleep problems may take weeks and sometimes months. The key is patience. As the body adjusts to life without alcohol or drugs sleep patterns will improve.
A natural by-product of better sleep is improved energy levels—something anyone in recovery needs.
Exercise also helps increase energy levels in recovering addicts.
Exercise Equals More Energy in Recovery
Low energy is not uncommon for people in early recovery. Consider the pressure of substance abuse on your body. Recovery is just as tiring in the early stages.
Regular exercise boosts your oxygen levels, which improves energy levels. You should notice over time a change in the way you feel going through your daily activities. Things, like preparing meals and cleaning your home, should get easier.
You might wonder why normal living feels like it steals the little energy you do have.
Don’t forget you’re experiencing life without the use of drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol helped you get through the day before recovery, right? When life felt demanding, your chosen substance helped you get through the day.
Now you’re experiencing the demands of daily life without that old assistance.
Exercise can fuel your energy levels and help you manage life without needing drugs or alcohol. If you can incorporate exercise into your life early in the recovery process, you’ll get a good start at clean and sober living.
Exercise not only improves energy levels it can help a person in recovery enjoy an improvement in mood.
Why Are You in a Good Mood?
Mood swings are common during both withdrawal and while in recovery.
As your body adjusts to life without drugs or alcohol mood changes are normal but that doesn’t mean you must just give in to mood swings. Exercise helps improve the mood of recovering addicts.
Remember what we said about endorphins in the brain? Endorphins produce positive feelings such as pleasure and euphoria. Endorphins are released by the body during exercise.
Those feelings that you experienced when you used drugs or alcohol can happen when you exercise! And marathon runs or hours spent at the gym aren’t necessary (although no one will bat an eye if you do either).
Improvement in mood doesn’t require hours or exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, 30 minutes of exercise, per day is enough. Thirty minutes of walking, gardening, or yoga—you can do it!
If improved mood and a better outlook on life aren’t enough what if we told you exercise can help keep you clean and sober?
Exercise Helps Prevent Relapse
You entered into treatment and sought professional help for your addiction. You took the first step, often considered the hardest part of the recovery journey.
Recovering addicts work hard and put a lot of energy into staying clean. Even so, around 70% of recovering substance abusers relapse within 1 year.
Exercise is one thing people in recovery can use as a buffer against relapse.
Exercise gives you a feeling of accomplishment. You feel a renewed sense of physical strength. Your physical and emotional health improves.
Participating in a recovery fitness program can help you maintain confidence in living a clean and sober life. Exercise is one more tool you can use in your quest for physical and emotional health during recovery.
Exercise is Good for Recovery
We hope this mini-guide about the benefits of exercise in recovery helps you understand how exercise can keep you on the right track.
Who wouldn’t feel positive about improved physical and mental health along with better sleep, more energy, and more good moods?
If you’ve enjoyed this article, check out our articles on health and wellness.