A New Years’ resolution isn’t the only reason you should consider hitting the gym. Everyone knows that exercise has no shortage of physical and mental benefits. However, it has specific perks for those undergoing addiction treatment. Here are 5 targeted ways that exercise can help recovering addicts before, during, and after their treatment.
1. Restore dopamine levels
Drug addiction can wreak havoc on your brain’s chemistry. After being subjected to artificial feelings of pleasure for an extended period of time, natural dopamine production is significantly reduced. This is one of the reasons why depression and anxiety are common side effects of substance abuse. Exercise is like a force-restart that can bypass that initial roadblock. Physical activity causes a surge of “happy” chemicals to be produced and over time can help restore dopamine levels to their pre-addiction state.
2. Reduces cravings
One of the biggest obstacles in the recovery process is dealing with cravings and exercise can help tame them. Studies have shown that addicts who partake in regular exercise have reduced drug use and in the long term, a greater likelihood of achieving abstinence. Scientists have yet to isolate the specific cause and whether the effects of exercise are direct or indirect. Even so, it cannot be argued that physical activity serves as a great distraction. Further, the release of the feel-good chemicals post-workout can keep feelings of stress and depression at bay, which might otherwise tempt recovering addicts into using again.
3. Sleep better
There is a strong correlation between substance abuse and sleep issues. Drugs often cause insomnia or difficulty sleeping because of the numerous neurochemical disruptions they cause. Conversely, many drug users turn to substance abuse when they have difficulty sleeping. This can quickly devolve into a negative recurring cycle that is hard to escape. Aside from creating a behavioral pattern that encourages reliance on drugs, sleep itself plays a key role in providing individuals with the tools they need to overcome addiction. The effects of sleep deprivation on cognition are swift, it’s likened to being drunk. Sleep serves an important function in mood, memory, impulse control, and decision making, all of which are necessary for the recovery process.
4. Provide a sense of structure
Regular exercise not only gives your overworked brain a much-needed boost but can provide a sense of structure and routine. Stability is important for recovering addicts because it grants a feeling of control – a stark contrast from how most feel when they’re in the thongs of addiction. Overcoming substance abuse is as much mental as it is physical recovery. Feeling like you have control puts you in the right mindset that you can create positive change, learn from your mistakes, and alter the course of your life for the better.
5. Feel connected with others
There are many stigmas associated with the concept of addiction, making it difficult for addicts to reach out to others for help. Addiction can be a very lonely ordeal and result in its victims feeling isolated from their friends, and family. This is why community-based support groups are so prevalent in addiction treatment, and restoring a sense of ‘belonging’ can go a long way in creating a mindset where the individual seeks to shed their old, harmful lifestyle. Group exercises like team sports are a great way to build camaraderie and feel a sense of belonging amongst peers. This feeling is a precursor to rejoining society after addiction.
Both the short and long-term benefits of exercise for recovering addicts cannot be overstated. Physical activity can help during all stages of recovery from dealing with withdrawal symptoms during detox to maintaining sobriety as relapse prevention. Some of the best types of workouts are low impact ones that aren’t too taxing on your still-healing body and mind: tai chi, yoga, and walking. Before undergoing any kind of workout regimen, be sure to speak with a health professional to ensure that you can do so safely.