Recognizing that you have a problem and addressing your need to battle an addiction is one of the toughest, bravest things you can do. Unfortunately, the tough road only begins there. The end of that road is not a cure of your addiction – that doesn’t exist. Most medical professionals, therapists, and step program participants will tell you that an addict will forever be in recovery. What does exist, however, is a place where you have control over your addiction, and that’s your ultimate goal. Here’s how exercise can be one of the best tools in your arsenal for fighting that battle.
Exercise as a healthy distraction
As someone in recovery, one of your daily goals is to avoid the stressors and triggers that could lead you into relapse. But as the National Addiction Institute points out, there’s no way to totally eliminate stressors, triggers, and cravings. At some point, you will be tested, and that’s when your coping mechanisms must work.
Exercise is a healthy way to relieve stress and distract yourself from cravings. Intense physical activity lets you channel your inner feelings into actual movement. Your frustration, anger, sadness, or rage can be taken out on a run, a punching bag, or a weight bench.
The brain-boosting power of exercise
At the point in which you begin addiction recovery, your brain has been struggling to produce the chemicals that make you happy for quite some time. You are dealing with a serotonin and dopamine shortage, and you need to replenish them without the aid of drugs and alcohol.
Perhaps the fastest and most reliable way to do this is through exercise. We know that exercise stimulates the release of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Research has also shown that exercise may be able to alter blood flow in the brain in such a way as to prevent the detrimental effects of stress. Exercise has also been shown to counteract depression just as effectively as medication. Beyond that, the healthier you feel and the better you look, the more self-esteem you have. When you feel good about your body, it’s easier to stay on a healthy path.
How to make exercise a part of your recovery
The best exercises for addiction recovery are the ones that make you the happiest – and only you can know that. But for most people, a combination of aerobic and strength-based exercise is best. Anything that gets your heart pumping – running, swimming, biking, sports – will work. For tips on how to get started, check out this guide.
It’s recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, and rigorous exercise may give you greater returns. But you want to be careful not to overwork your body in a misguided attempt to “cure” your addictions. Though exercise is healthy, you don’t want to trade one addiction for another.
An overall approach to wellness is necessary. You can’t just exercise your way to better health. Any fitness for recovery regimen should include a focus on proper diet as well as mindfulness exercises. Each week should include some attention to yoga and meditation. Beyond that, it may behoove you to join group fitness classes. Not only will this help to keep your motivated and accountable, but social interaction is just as important to overall mental health as anything else.
While exercise may only be one tool in your overall recovery strategy, it’s a vital one. That’s because it has the ability to literally alter your brain chemistry for the better. Beyond that, exercise is something that you can control, which is important because addiction is a disease that leaves you totally out of control.