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Holistic Addiction Treatment: Exercise

Exercise is a crucial element of a holistic approach to maintaining sobriety after recovering from addiction. It distracts your mind from wandering to some not-so-good places. It helps you heal the parts of your body and mind that may have gotten damaged in the land of addiction. And it uses both physical and emotional strength productively, rather than having your feelings and actions escape in an unhealthy way.

The best thing about making exercise a regular part of your life is that it’s been proven that your mood is almost always better after a little physical activity. And when you are happy AND healthy, the more the likelihood of sustaining your recovery increases.

Getting Started

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Exercise helps get your endorphins going, reduces cravings, and makes you feel empowered.

When you start exercising, it is a necessity that you choose activities that you enjoy. The more fun you have exercising, the more likely it is that you will continue doing it, rather than creating a rote list of weight-lifting routines and schedules of aerobics classes that feels like a chore to follow. Your body has been weakened by your addiction, and the process of going through recovery, so make sure you don’t try to overdo it with boring, excessive exercises on the first day. Everything will seem a little difficult at first. But the physical activity guidelines for Americans recommends only 30 minutes of physical activity a day for adults. So go for a 15-minute walk, turn around and come home, and you’re done!

It’s important to recognize all the things you already do that count as exercising – doing the dishes, vacuuming, running up and down stairs all day, making dinner, walking through the mall parking lot, and back, after getting stuck in the absolute farthest possible parking spot. These all are matter-of-fact exercises that you do just about every day. Why not try to find a friend who likes tennis or basketball, perhaps, and have a fun game once or twice a week?

Whatever you do, make sure it’s something you look forward to, or can see yourself looking forward to. Otherwise, you may keep it up for a while, but eventually the novelty will wear off and you’ll slowly slide into a sedentary lifestyle, with extra time on your hands, which is never a good thing for someone in recovery.

Benefits of Exercise in Substance Abuse Treatment

There are some primary benefits you can get from exercise during substance abuse treatment and recovery:

  1. Exercise relieves and reduces stress. Tension builds in our bodies when we’re at work, during everyday interactions, and even when we’re watching television. This tension can come from having poor posture at work or having a bad interaction with a co-worker. It builds throughout the day, and in just 30 minutes of exercise, you can send that tension packing.
  2. Exercise naturally and positively alters your brain chemistry by releasing endorphins, the same endorphins your body released while you abused substances, giving you the high you were seeking. But dedicated physical activity will gradually reintroduce the natural levels of endorphins in your system, which helps you feel better and reteaches your body that it is capable of regulating your own brain chemistry and mood in healthy, natural ways.
  3. Exercise improves your outlook. Regular exercisers report increased feelings of self-confidence and optimism and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. This comes from feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self-worth from sticking to an exercise regime and seeing the results. These are the feelings you are looking for because they will reinforce the goal of continued sobriety.
  4. Regular exercise also fosters improved sleep and greater energy, making life that much more manageable and enjoyable, and recovery that much more possible and sustainable. And while working out can take many forms, low impact does not mean less effective. Studies show that walking for just 30 minutes a day, several days a week, can produce results.

Results from Exercise in Treatment

Positive outcomes from regular exercise may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved muscle strength
  • Improved energy
  • Better sleep patterns
  • Improved circulation
  • Improved self-esteem and mood
  • Reduced anxiety and depression

There are many ways that getting an exercise routine into your life can help you maintain your sobriety.

Exercise can help provide structure to your days. Someone is expecting to meet you somewhere at a certain time to exercise together; this makes you more accountable. Your whole day has to have a somewhat pre-set plan, so you can be sure that you can make all of your appointments. Needing to stick to that plan keeps you from being able to stray if your mind starts to wander and those cravings come creeping in.

A commitment to a regular exercise routine takes time. Keeping the appointments on your schedule won’t leave you with enough time to stray, and even keeps you from thinking those thoughts because you are centered on what you are doing at the moment.

Both your body and your brain will benefit from exercising. Improved long term fitness helps with cardio-vascular health and diabetes and can even help lower the risk of some types of cancers. Research shows that exercise can increase the amount of new nerve connections that develop in the brain, which will help your brain heal from the harm your addiction has been causing.

Exercise as an Antidote to Addiction

As a treatment for addiction, exercise works from head to toe. Starting in the brain, exercise helps addicts to learn and appreciate alternative and healthy scenarios. It takes time out of your day and forces you to create structure to get everything done, instead of just sitting around, looking for your next fix. Exercise helps you organize the pieces of your life, which, until recovery, were everywhere. With any luck, exercise can become your new craving, one that you can head for with a smile on your face.

Remember that recovery isn’t just about willpower. While you’re far more likely to remain sober if you avoid the people you used to use with and stay away from the places you used to go to get a fix, that is only part of the equation. Without some good holistic eating and exercise routines in your life at the least, to help get you through those rough patches, staying clean is going to get harder and harder. And after everything you’ve worked for, a little exercise seems like a small effort to maintain that recovery you fought so hard for. You just won the battle of a lifetime. Don’t let it get the best of you when you hold in your hands the tools to stay on top.

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