By Elizabeth Rosselle
It’s easy to overlook the benefits of regular exercise in drug and alcohol recovery, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Addiction actually changes your body chemistry, and when alcohol or drugs are removed, you’ll most likely be feeling anxious, uneasy, and depressed. These emotions can swiftly lead to a relapse if gone unchecked, but physical activity can help more than you might think. Not only can exercise aid with withdrawal, but it can help to prevent a relapse by providing a steady routine while boosting your mood and improving your health.
Keep in mind that your workouts don’t need to be overly strenuous, particularly if you haven’t exercised in a while (or ever, for that matter). Even getting up and moving your body for just thirty minutes per day can have profound benefits. Here are some of the ways that a consistent exercise regimen can help your recovery in big ways.
Stress reduction. Stress is one of the triggers that can, and often does, lead to a relapse. Stress can be brought on by things like work, relationship issues, family drama, and even just everyday minor setbacks like car trouble. While this stuff might not sound like a reason to give up on sobriety now, you’d be surprised how often stressful situations can impair the seemingly sound judgment of a sober addict. Exercise helps because it releases healthy endorphins in the brain while improving circulation, both of which lower the hormone cortisol, thus combatting stress. Moreover, it fills up time and thoughts while giving the “monkey mind” a well-deserved rest, enabling you to focus on movement and breath rather than stressors.
Boosts immune system. The effects of drugs and alcohol can be very taxing on our bodies and our immune systems. The substances themselves aren’t necessarily responsible for lowered immune function, but they can cause things like dehydration, fatigue (both mental and physical), and lack of food or sleep. All of these things can lead to a weakened immune system. Physical activity, however, boosts the immune system by increasing the circulation of immune cells. It also contributes to overall health which can support immune system functions, thereby helping protect you from things like cancer, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and depression.
Better sleep. There’s a term that’s often used by people in twelve-step recovery called HALT. It’s an acronym that stands for “hungry, angry, lonely, and tired,” as well as a tool to remind people of the four most common stressors in recovery. Exercise can naturally improve the quantity and quality of your sleep to help you combat the last stressor on the list, tiredness. People in recovery will have often turned to drugs and alcohol to sleep better, in addition to the fact that a hard-partying lifestyle can heavily impact sleep schedules. If you’re newly sober, exercise can help restore a normal sleep schedule—one that you may have lost. Even if you’ve been sober for a while, improving the quality of your sleep will improve the quality of your life and help you stay grounded.
Improved mood. Mood changes in recovery are quite common as your body adapts to the chemicals leaving it. Your system needs to relearn how to naturally produce the feel-good chemicals like dopamine that were formerly stimulated with drugs and alcohol. Endorphins from exercise can help you to feel happy and more relaxed naturally. Plus, building your strength and fitness levels can be a big-time confidence booster which can also lead to an improved mood.
Provides structure and routine. Having a concrete routine every day is an exercise in accountability. For instance, an early morning exercise schedule can help you resist the urge to stay out late the night before, particularly if you have a workout buddy you’ve made a commitment. On the other hand, if you schedule your gym time right after work, then you have the perfect excuse to give happy hour a miss. Having a healthy routine in place can prove enormously beneficial in moments of weakness when you might be tempted to pick up a drink or use drugs. Working out is the kind of routine that ultimately becomes quite rewarding once you become accustomed to the physical benefits. For many recovering addicts and alcoholics, it’s the kind of structure and routine they never knew they’d been missing but have come to rely on because it makes them feel so good. The best part is that it comes without a nasty hangover.
Helps prevent a relapse. Finally, having a steady exercise routine can help prevent a relapse and this is for all of the reasons mentioned above. If and when you’re ever feeling tempted to drink or use in your recovery, try leaning into the natural high that a good workout will bring.
Exercise combined with other forms of treatment can be the perfect combination for long-term recovery. And, remember, it doesn’t need to be strenuous work. If working out in a gym isn’t your thing, try finding activities that you love to do and stick with those. Maybe these include cycling, surfing, tennis, or even just walking. It doesn’t really matter as long as you get your body moving.
Making these kinds of life overhauls can feel a bit daunting in early recovery, but the long-term benefits are well worth it. And, of course, it gets so much easier with time. Start by taking baby steps one day at a time, and watch how beautifully life unfolds.
Kembali Recovery Center is Here for you
If you or someone you love is struggling to get or stay sober, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn about the programs we offer. You never have to do this alone.