When you are trying to recover from an addiction, it may seem impossible to find the willpower to work out. You may be tempted to tell yourself that you need to get better first and that you will create a healthy routine once you feel more stable. However, there is ample evidence that exercise can be invaluable during the recovery process, and many former addicts claim that it made all the difference for them. Here are four reasons why you should be getting fit as you get sober.
It Triggers a Natural High
The runner’s high is not a myth, but a chemical reaction that happens in the body during moderate-intensity endurance exercise. According to Runner’s World, researchers have theorized that this response may have allowed our hunting ancestorsto run long distances by masking their pain and discomfort. Nowadays, it can serve a similar purpose for recovering addicts suffering withdrawal symptoms. It is also simply a healthy way to achieve a high comparable to drugsin its intensity, which could be crucial for someone on the edge of relapse.
It Improves Your Mental Health
By exercising, you will be helping your mental health just as much as your physical health. Exercise has been shownto help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, both of which are commonly found alongside addiction. Specific exercises that have been shown to improve mental health includeyoga, dancing, running, and strength training.
Nevertheless, you should remember that physical fitness does not represent an all-out cure for mental health issues. For many, it is only useful when applied within the context of treatment, such as counseling or medication.
It Rewires Your Brain
Exercise doesn’t just make you feel better; it physically rewires the way your brain responds to negative emotions. Interestingly, your brain does not distinguish between the physical stress you feel at the gym and the emotional stress that makes you anxious. In both cases, your brain triggers the production of cortisol, which causes the symptoms of stress.
When you exercise regularly, you are exposing your brain to stress and improving its ability to process it. As a result, when encountered with emotional stress, your brain produces less cortisol, lessening the actual physical sensations of stress. According to Men’s Health, this same response has been listed by experts as one of the reasons why exercise can also boost confidence. When you feel less stressed, you feel surer of your ability to tackle anything life throws at you.
It Helps You Set Up a Healthy Routine
Your exercise habit is likely to have a positive knock-on effect in other areas of your life. Research has shown that people who work out regularly feel more compelled to eat a healthier diet. As you put effort into your exercise routine, you will be motivated to keep up the work in the kitchen. Similarly, once exercise has become a habit, your mind is free to focus on other things you can actively try to improve.
Exercise can help you sleep better, which is another foundation of a healthy lifestyle. By focusing on building a workout habit, you can get much better results than trying to change your life all at the same time. For recovering addicts who need to change their daily routine while maintaining a sense of control over their lives, this singular focus can be an anchor around which they can build a healthy lifestyle.
When creating your new fitness routine, the one rule is to choose exercises you enjoy. Aside from that, look for workouts that involve controlled breathing (running, yoga, swimming, strength training) because these can have meditative properties. Prioritize longer workouts at moderate intensity, particularly if you want to get that runner’s high, but feel free to throw in a more challenging exercise if you are up for it. If it gets you moving and makes you feel good, incorporate it into your schedule.
– Written By: Susan Treadway