Exercise provides many benefits. We are all aware of the physical gains from working out — leaner bodies, increased muscle mass, better flexibility, and improved balance — but exercise also benefits our brains. Those who exercise are less likely to become depressed or suffer anxiety, and have stronger social lives and increased self-esteem. These mental benefits and physical side effects of exercise also support the battle against addiction, and when combined with a perspective that takes the entire mind-body connection into account, recovery is enabled.
Why our brains like physical exercise
The neurochemical system in our body is complex. Chemicals such as adrenaline and endorphins are naturally created in the body, where they are stored and ready for certain triggering events. These feel-good chemicals can provide energy and feelings of euphoria, some of which are similar to what we experience when using drugs or alcohol. Unlike substances, exercise doesn’t result in a hangover and is generally considered a positive activity that enhances lives. In a very real way, then, those going through addiction recovery can replace their bad addictions with a good obsession.
There are numerous examples of people turning to fitness as a way to manage addiction. Renowned athlete Todd Crandell went from being an addict to competing in marathons and triathlons. For Crandell and other people, exercise filled the space that sobriety left open. On a very basic level, exercise or any other positive and supportive activity occupies the time. Those who are committed to a workout routine simply don’t have time for the activities that lead to drug use and alcohol abuse, and this can help stave off relapse.
How to incorporate exercise that will stick
Since exercise is a replacement for the high derived from drinking and using drugs, it is an effective tool in recovery only to the extent that it can be sustained. Several weeks of working out can lead to burnout rather than recovery support. Just like anyone embarking on a fitness regimen should take small steps, so too should those incorporating exercise into recovery.
Look for exercises that are low impact and enjoyable, such as walking, cycling, and swimming. Hiking is a sustainable exercise that also incorporates the therapeutic benefits of nature. Whatever you try — and it is crucial to have an open mind and try new exercise — self-evaluate how much you enjoyed the activity. You can follow a simple checklist that will rate your physical and emotional responses to particular workouts.
Don’t stop at exercise in creating whole-body wellness
There are several other ways to bolster your recovery efforts. A balanced diet is an important part of overall health, which also helps you maintain exercise routines. Those dealing with addiction often neglect their diets, relying on quick meals, junk food or skipping meals entirely in favor of getting high or drunk.
Good nutrition also affects mood. Those who eat regular meals while avoiding overeating tend to be happier, experiencing fewer mood swings. In fact, there are a handful of important foods, including leafy greens and eggs, that can act as all-natural mood boosters when you work them into your meals. A balanced diet also battles obesity, a disease that results in health deterioration and illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
In addition to eating right, your exercise and addiction recovery can be further supported by how you think. For many, meditation provides a level of self-knowledge that can help center one’s life, especially during the struggles of addiction. An activity that combines physical fitness with mindfulness is yoga. Those in recovery benefit from yoga because it isn’t really an exercise program — it is a life practice that positively influences other areas of your life.
When a holistic view of one’s health is taken, the mind and body work together to support common goals. By focusing on wellness, positivity can block out the negative temptations of substance abuse.
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