There’s no question that exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. For people living with addiction, though, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that exercise is not only helpful in the quest to stay sober, but actually a cornerstone of effective treatment.
According to research, when combined with other forms of treatment (including counseling, support groups, and/or medication) exercise helps people get and stay sober.
There are many reasons for this, both physical and mental.
Exercise Makes You Happy
People struggling with drugs and alcohol often lose the ability to feel happiness and pleasure without the stimulation provided by substances. One of the goals of recovery is to help addicts restore that ability, and exercise is a key component in that process. When we exercise, the brain releases endorphins, the so-called “happy hormones,” effectively creating a natural high.
While this high might not be as intense as that brought on by drugs, over time, you retrain your body to regulate its own brain chemistry, allowing you to experience happiness without substances once again.
Exercise Reduces Stress
There’s a strong correlation between stress and substance abuse, with increased stress often causing increased abuse. Exercise is a proven stress reliever, though. Even just taking a walk can help reduce the physical and psychological tension, which in turn can reduce the urge to turn to substances for relief. In fact, the Mayo Clinic has referred to exercise as “meditation in motion,” because it helps clear the mind.
Working out increases clarity and focus, which can help someone in recovery feel more in control of their life, and like they can manage what’s coming their way.
Exercise Improves Physical Health
Drug addiction wreaks havoc on your physical health, and one of the goals of California drug rehabilitation programs is to help restore physical health and get patients back on track to take care of themselves and making healthy choices. Exercise is a part of this, as not only does regular physical activity help reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and depression, it also helps support the immune system.
Exercising can also help control some of the weight gain that often comes with sobriety, which may increase feelings of frustration and defeat among patients. Exercise is also proven to improve sleep, and restoring a normal sleep schedule is a key aspect of recovery.
Exercise Builds Self-Esteem and Life Skills
Not only does regular exercise help fill one’s time with a healthy activity, it also helps build self-esteem. Many people in recovery start small when it comes to exercise – taking short walks, for instance – but gradually build their strength and stamina. Setting and achieving goals provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can spill over into other areas of life.
For instance, the pride that comes with finishing a 5K or increasing the amount of weight lifted can increase feelings of confidence in all aspects of life. For someone looking to rebuild their life after addiction, this is important.
Exercise Builds Camaraderie
Not all exercise is solitary. Participating in team sports, or even just working out as a group, provides all of the benefits of exercise while also supporting teamwork and encouraging friendships. A growing number of organizations offer physical activity options specifically for people in recovery, providing both healthy activity and the chance to build strong relationships.
Exercise Helps Prevent Relapse
Finally, multiple studies suggest that exercise, as part of an overall treatment plan, can actually help reduce the risk of a relapse into drug addiction. In fact, taken collectively, these studies indicate that the risk of relapse is reduced by as much as 95 percent. Researchers attribute much of this success rate to exercise’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety, but we can’t discount the other benefits of exercise in the ability to keep people sober.
Ultimately, exercise is but one part of a successful recovery plan – but a very important one. Incorporating physical activity into recovery provides some relief from many of the factors that contribute to addiction, as well as the effects that getting sober can have on the body and mind.