Here’s a fast fact: exercise and substance use both activate the release of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. So if you’re considering new sober living choices, the natural “runner’s high” you get from regular movement is one of your best tools for long-lasting recovery.
Exercise: Good for Body and Mind
How can something so simple have such a major impact on your wellbeing? Because in addition to providing the automatic mental benefits mentioned above, your body is a machine designed to be in motion:
- The body has over 600 muscles—all providing the essential functions for movement.
- It takes approximately 12 hours for our bodies to digest our last meal—but this process works much more smoothly with regular exercise.
- While fitness training is important, functional training is actually more essential to make our daily activities easier—going up and down stairs, carrying groceries, quickly reaching for a falling child, getting up from a chair, and so on. Our reflexes are heightened by understanding how our body moves and sharpening its ability to move well.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine details a number of benefits to regular exercise, including:
- Manages health problems
- Improves your mood and helps you manage certain mental health conditions
- Boosts energy, stimulates metabolism, and builds endurance
- Helps you sleep better
- Improves your ability to learn, think, and other cognitive functions
- Reduces the likelihood of more chronic diseases such as heart conditions, diabetes, and cancer
- Strengthens muscles and bones
- Provides better resilience against stress
- Enhances your immune system
How does exercise specifically help people in recovery? Addiction scientists continue to explore the benefits of therapeutic methods combined with regular exercise to help people during and after treatment manage some common challenges, including:
- Chronic pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fluctuations with energy and mood
- Mental health problems
- Potential relapse
- Smoking, but wanting to quit
- Troubling thoughts and emotions
- Weight gain
And when the brain’s reward center is prompted to release the “feel good” chemicals mentioned above through healthy means such as consistent movement, you have greater ease handling life’s negative circumstances. For example, an article for the American Psychological Association interviewed various psychologists regarding the impact of exercise on mental health. Some of their observations include:
- “I often recommend exercise for my psychotherapy clients, particularly for those who are anxious or depressed.”
- “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise, you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
- “There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program.”
- “Exercise seems not only important for treating depression, but also in preventing relapse.”
- “Activity may be especially important for people at risk of developing anxiety disorder.”
- “Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise…failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”
The hows and whys of how exercise can boost your recovery outlook are numerous—so create a plan that helps you start off right and build a routine that becomes a vital part of your life.
Incremental Exercise Gains Are Best
In our enthusiasm, it’s easy to pack a gear bag and head off to one of the fitness powerhouses, determined to “kill it” doing some type of heavy lifting program.
Instead, pace yourself. Accept the beginner’s mindset that each day, each week, each month will get you closer to your fitness goals.
If you haven’t been exercising…
- Just start walking. The benefits are endless, it’s low-cost, you can do it alone or with a friend, and it’s easy.
- Try a walking or jogging goal program like Fleet Feet’s Beginner 5K: Finish in Atlanta and other Couch to 5K programs. They provide detailed action plans, coaching, and camaraderie.
- Work with a fitness trainer. You don’t even need a gym membership to hire a professional to help you establish a healthy eating plan and graduated strength, cardio, or yoga workouts.
- Do something like chair yoga, Pilates, bicycling, or swimming if your joints need more comfort. You’ll still receive all the other benefits of consistent movement.
If you’re a little more movement advanced…
- Consider intermediate lifting programs. Now you might have better form and endurance for something like CrossFit, BodyPump, P90X, and other focused-intensity routines.
- Amp up the fun with something completely different, such as Zumba dance, parkour, roller skating, Nerf club, cheerleading, aerial fitness, or Kangoo Jumps.
- Delve into deeper aspects of exercise, such as a functional fitness program to learn how to improve agility, balance, and muscle strength.
- Join a ballclub sport, such as softball, baseball, soccer, basketball, flag football, rugby, dodgeball, volleyball—even cricket.
- Move off-land and into the water with sculling, kayaking, sailing, or stand-up paddleboarding.
- Do more outside, such as hiking, rappelling, adventure racing, trail runs, or Tough Mudder.
Staying active is an essential way to remain connected to your choice of wellness and marvel at how much you can accomplish with clarity. This connection radiates outward, too, as you join like-minded people in various pursuits to form a strong social network.
Willingway Supports Your Efforts
As one of the Top 10 treatment centers in the nation, we understand how the integration of therapy and fitness creates a sound body, mind, and spirit. Our 11-acre wooded campus offers numerous recreational opportunities, as well as a pool and fully-outfitted gym. If you or someone you love is ready for sobriety, take a tour.