Written By: Adam Cook
When you’re recovering from addiction, your body is going through a lot of changes. You have to relearn how to deal with life without the use of drugs or alcohol, and that is an extremely difficult challenge. One way that might help is by adding exercise.
One of the ways that drugs and alcohol make a person feel “good” is by producing endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are naturally occurring molecules in the body that are similar to morphine and function to transmit signals in the brain. They are produced during exercise, excitement, pain, love and sexual activity. They are similar to opiates in their abilities to reduce pain and produce a feeling of well-being. The great thing about endorphins is that you can get them just by exercising, and they are totally safe.
While a “runner’s high” from endorphins isn’t going to replace the high an addict is used to, it certainly can make a person feel much better. People in recovery often suffer from depression, which can be eased by endorphins.
People who exercise are less likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Epidemiological studies show that exercise and drug abuse are inversely related, meaning that when one is stronger, the other is weaker. So, if you work hard at exercise, your drug or alcohol abuse will diminish. But if you start using drugs, your exercise will diminish -- which is the opposite of your recovery goals.
Another issue that often occurs during recovery is the resurgence of anger issues. Exercise has a beneficial effect on anger, as well. Stress physiologist Dr. Nathaniel Thom has studied the effects of exercise on stress and anger issues. He said, "exercise, even a single bout of it, can have a robust prophylactic effect" against the buildup of anger. While physiologists are still trying to determine the roots of anger, he suggests that if you find yourself in a situation where you might be stressed and worried about an angry outburst, go for a run first.
While exercise alone will not fix your addiction issues, it can certainly help when added to your recovery treatment. If you haven’t exercised in a long time, you might want to begin slowly and build up to more serious exercise.
Here are some tips to get started:
Figure out why you want to exercise -- Of course, you want to get fit. But why? Because it will help you with recovery. Because it will make you feel better. Because you deserve to take care of yourself. Because you want to play with your kids. Really think about all the important reasons. They’ll help you when times are tough.
Decide what you like -- Perhaps you used to play tennis and would like to get back into it. If you’d like to become a runner, start with walking and build up to it. Maybe shoot hoops with friends.
Just get started -- Right now, it might be a feat to walk to the end of the block and back. That’s OK. Just try. The distance and stamina will come later. Exercise physiologists like Kelly Drew of the American College of Sports Medicine, suggest doing 20 minutes of exercise three times a week. From there, increase duration until you can get to 30 minutes, and on up from there.
Get a buddy -- Having someone to hold you accountable is a great way to make sure you meet your goals. Find a friend who wants to exercise and can do it on your level. Sometimes, just walking and talking can be a great stress reliever. Your friend could be someone else in recovery or just someone who is willing to be a friend. If it’s someone new, you might forge a great friendship out of it.
Try different things -- You might despise the treadmill or really abhor lifting weights. But there are tons of other things. Changing your routine keeps you from getting bored and helps challenge your muscles.
Whatever you do, talk to your doctor first about what you are capable of. Check with him or her about injuries or limitations. Your doctor will be able to recommend a safe and helpful program for you.
** This article was written by contributor Adam Cook. Please check out his comprehensive website, which offers a variety of helpful resources and information on addiction and mental health: Addictionhub.org **