7 Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery…can it benefit you?

If you left the craziness of addiction behind and are actively trying to forge a healthier and more holistic lifestyle then this article is for you. Why? Because you are ready to courageously live your life to the fullest and this entails the spirit, the mind, and the body.

John Dupuy, author of Integral Recovery, in his chapter on physical health, jokes that early recovery is time to “drop the bar bill and pick up the barbell!”

He’s right on the money.

The truth is that recovery requires a total overhaul in one’s lifestyle. Everything needs to dramatically shift.

As the old recovery slogan states, “the only thing you need to change is everything.

Part of this change is learning to treat our bodies better, particularly in the form of proper diet and exercise.

Experts in addiction recovery and mental health treatment recommend that both exercise and this momentous shift in lifestyle are equally important.

Exercise will help boost the speed and probability of recovery and provide a variety of benefits that I will expand upon in this article.

The basic idea is that a workout routine, no matter how intense, is immensely profitable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting active for at least 150 minutes per week can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancers and other chronic diseases. Another collection of studies suggest that regular exercise can increase the abstinence rate for substance use by 95 percent.

Let’s not minimize that 95%! It’s worth peaking behind the curtains and taking a gander.

Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery

How To Introduce A Workout Routine Without Making It Too Intense

The very first phase of recovery will be detoxifying the body.

During detox, it’s critical to maintain a very clean diet so the body can expel all the toxins and restore the body to homeostasis.

Some people speed up the detox by using a specific detox based diet and supplements but experts believe that the inner detox or the built-in detox (the bodies natural process) is strong enough without supplementation.

Please consult with your physician before detoxing on your own, you might need medical monitoring. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, do not take the risk,

Once the body is totally clean, your mind will struggle to find comfort in other things.

This is one of the most intense yet frustrating phases of early recovery because the body is constantly going through a relapse (releasing hormones and chemicals to motivate you to pick up the drink or the drug). The pain is often intense and you will frequently find yourself in emotional distress trying to process various feelings.

The goal in this process needs to be linked with helping the body heal and finding healthy activities that can boost the immune system . Technically this is the phase where exercise is recommended, if not critically needed, the most.

With the help of this article, we will highlight why exercise is important and how it can benefit the fragile body of the addict in early recovery and take him or her to the next level.

Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery
Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery: energy

Energy Level Adjustment

Energy level adjustment is very important because the vestiges of addiction on the body will result in feeling like a total depletion of energy.

The muscles will likely be in fatigued position and you may find it hard to complete simple tasks like lifting things or even walking. It may not even be your body, it may additionally be your mind i.e., poor motivation.

The idea is to start with some basic workout routines consisting of mainly functional workouts that enable an incremental climb in intensity.

When I say basic, I mean it. I’m talking about walking for 30 minutes a day! Recall that according to the CDC only 150 minutes a week can yield tremendous results. The is as simple was walking for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week.

Toni Golen, M.D., and Hope Ricciotti, M.D., Editors in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, explain it with wild preicison. 

It might sound strange, but it’s true that moving more can help give you more energy, through several mechanisms.

To begin with, cellular-level changes occur inside your body when you exercise. Exertion spurs your body to produce more mitochondria inside your muscle cells. Mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of cells, because they create fuel out of glucose from the food you eat and oxygen from the air you breathe. Having more of them increases your body’s energy supply.

Exercising also boosts oxygen circulation inside your body. This increase in oxygen not only supports the mitochondria’s energy production, it allows your body to function better and to use its energy more efficiently. Plus, your body gets a boost from an exercise-induced increase in hormone levels that makes you feel more energized.

In addition to helping your body create and use energy, regular exercise promotes better nighttime sleep. Deep sleep is crucial to your overall health and to feeling well rested and energetic when you wake up in the morning.

Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery
Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery: sleep

Sleep Improvement

The sleeping patterns of the early recovering addict are usually extremely abnormal, if practically non-existent.

A dysfunctional circadian rhythm can wreak havoc on every dimension of your life. If your body doesn’t have enough energy, you obviously find an intense need to sleep all the time, even if you can’t sleep at all!

However, once you start working out, your body will begin to organically produce enough energy and you’ll gradually build to higher intensity routines. The increase is the result of the cumulative effect, which obviously stands in stark opposition to the instant gratification of addiction.

Over time exercise will also enable better sleeping schedule and with better sleeping patterns you will find it easier to adjust to a healthy lifestyle.

Based on available studies, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. , medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital.

In fact, research has found that performing at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week can enhance sleep quality by up to 65%.

Mood Booster

Feeling frustrated and having mood swings is very common in early recovery. Anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, and poor attention are par for course.

If you feel an increasing and creeping intensity of a low mood, you will also likely feel the extreme craving to leave things behind and begin abusing the substance again, usually for relief.

Exercise does provide you with a distraction that will help you fight this intense cravings of substance abuse, so it’s an excellent tool when these emotions arise.

That being said, exercise will also help as you change your lifestyle, a good workout routine (coupled with the hard work of recovery) will eventually help you settle into the healthy routine that satisfies the needs of your body and mind.

“We saw a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity,” says study author Karmel Choi, a clinical and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking.”

Again, this doesn’t mean you need to be in gym throwing up hundreds of pounds. You don’t need to be a gym rat with chiseled pectoral muscles to be healthy! According to the Mayo Clinic, just 30 minutes of exercise per day is enough to affect a positive change in mood.

Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery
Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery: mood

Boost Immunity

Upon detoxification your immunity is at rock bottom. This means that even the slight flu or viral infection will likely do a number on you. This can increase frustration and stress that will increase the odds of relapse. Further, since the body is at such a low immunity, you’ll likely have a lower pain threshold (physically and emotionally).

However, with exercise, you will be fueling your body, providing it with the necessary tension to rebuild itself and allow you to perform daily functions with ease. As daily exercise begins to boost your immunity you’ll gradually adjust to more rigorous routines and conditions.

The best thing about this whole process is that exercise ensures steady blood circulation which supports organ health , optimal functioning of the central nervous system, and overall better performance and efficacy of the brain.

Research conducted to during the pandemic to measure whether exercise can help against covid-19 was explicitly clear: “The practice of physical exercises acts as a modulator of the immune system. During and after physical exercise, pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines are released, lymphocyte circulation increases, as well as cell recruitment.”

Prevent Relapse

Relapse is common but this doesn’t mean everyone suffering from an addiction of necessity must relapse to recover. That doesn’t even make sense, but I hear it all the time.

A treatment plan the consists of robust therapy, individual and group, as well as rigorous exercise, will result in a traceable way to maintain motivation.

Experts also believe that exercise is a great coping mechanism that will help your body stay committed to healing rather than cave into the feeling of cravings that can lead you back to addiction.

The data is clear: stress leads to relapse.

There is also an abundance of data to suggest that exercise reduces to stress. It stands to reason that exercise is a remarkable relapse prevention tool by virtue of its capacity to increase one’s distress tolerance.

One study that measured the effects of exercise on addiction recovery in youth observed, Relapse prevention efficacy, self-esteem, and perceived physical health increased over time in the program. Youth who, on average, enjoyed exercise more had higher self-esteem, perceived physical health, and relapse prevention efficacy than those who enjoyed it less. Additionally, on occasions when youth enjoyed exercise more (relative to their own average), they reported higher self-esteem, perceived physical health, and relapse prevention efficacy than on occasions when they reported enjoying it less.”

Though this study was targeting a younger population it’s fairly obvious that it would easily find similar if not identical findings in an adult. This is evident in a 2011 study on measuring the success of aerobic exercise as an adjunctive treatment for drug dependence. The results? “Participants demonstrated a significant increase in percent days abstinent for both alcohol and drugs at the end of treatment, and those who attended at least 75% of the exercise sessions had significantly better substance use outcomes than those who did not.”

Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery
Benefits of Exercise in addiction recovery: built immunity and relapse prevention

Bottom Line

To sum it all up, once you step into the healing process and your body is fully clean, you need to help your body get into a healthy routine to experience the full results.

The goal? To create a lifestyle that allows you to heal faster, decrease the triggers that can lead you back to old habits. and makes addiction unnecessary.

Exercise is part of the integrative approach to treatment addiction that can produce these results. So, exercise!

Ann Edwards of Elite Sports and Born Tough was a co-author of this article.