Studies going back decades have shown a proven link between exercise and treating addiction. Animal studies have found that access to an exercise wheel reduces self-administration of cocaine in rats, whilst morphine-addicted rats have been seen to dramatically reduce their voluntary consumption of the drug when given the chance to swim instead.
Numerous human studies have had similar findings, which is why in recent years exercise regimes have become a popular complementary therapy in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes.
Vigorous exercise replaces addiction by stimulating the ‘reward centre’ of the brain, a sort of internal feedback that makes you feel good when you do something right. This part of the brain is triggered by dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which are all produced through various positive behaviours including healthy eating and exercise. Whilst this part of the brain can be falsely triggered by drugs and alcohol, exercise creates a similar rush to the one that accompanies a chemical high – but with a whole host of other benefits that make it worthwhile.
Whilst exercise alone will probably not be enough for an addict to give up their addiction once and for all, if you decide to add it to your rehab programme it is a proven rehabilitation method that may be a key element to your recovery.
Benefits Of Exercise In Addiction Recovery
Stress is one of the most critical factors that lead to relapse on leaving rehab. An addict will always naturally return to the thing that they know will make them feel better in times of stress – it’s why a smoker will always reach for a cigarette on receiving bad news, for example. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good, both during and after the event, and also increases circulation, which can help to keep blood pressure down and stop stress feeling too overwhelming.
Provides Structure To Your Days
One of the things that people in recovery find the hardest about leaving rehab is what to do with all of the time they suddenly have free, that they would have previously spent using. Many forms of exercise take the form of a class or team activity, requiring you to be somewhere at a specific time on specific days. Just having this activity booked for later in the day can be the difference between giving in and having, for example, ‘just one’ drink and deciding not to.
Heals Your Body and Mind
Aside from the neurological benefits of exercise, long term fitness has a host of other physical and mental benefits.
Physically, exercise helps to improve cardiovascular health, helps to prevent diabetes and lower the risk of some cancers. Exercise and healthy eating is proven to make the immune system stronger, stopping you from getting all of the colds and flus you were probably plagued with during your addiction.
On a psychological level, exercise is able to stimulate the brain to make new nerve connections, strengthening neural pathways and actually reversing some of the damage that your addiction did to your brain. It is good at stabilising mood swings, (thanks to the increased production of dopamine and serotonin) something which can be debilitating in the early days of detox.
You will also start to notice how much better you start to look, something which may seem inconsequential compared to the other issues you are dealing with during detox, but wonderfully improves your confidence and self esteem.
Best Exercises For Recovery
Although exercise is a wonderfully simple way to help yourself during your recovery, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means it will be easy! There is a difference between physical activity and exercise, and you will only see real benefits from actual exercise, which requires you to work hard, get your heart pumping and get sweaty! A gentle walk won’t stimulate much of anything, but even if you’re not a very athletic person, there are lots of great exercises you can do.
This is the quickest and most effective route to fitness, and an excellent form of cardiovascular workout. You can start with walking, as long as you choose to walk at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes a day. You should be slightly out of breath. After this, under the guidance of your doctor, you may be able to start jogging and then move onto running, which is where those endorphins really start to kick in!
Improving tone and building muscle is one of the best ways to improve your self image and get fit at the same time. Strength training has also been found to reduce depression symptoms, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of relapse. Lifting weights should always be done with supervision for beginners, so try joining a class or group, or even getting a personal trainer.
One of the most common physical treatments promoted in substance abuse programmes, Yoga manages to combine both the physical and mental, with strengthening and stretching exercises combined with meditation. Yoga can also be done almost anywhere and thus is a useful skill to learn and take with you, from rehab, back into your everyday life.
For those who don’t feel particularly connected to ‘sport’ or other exercise, cycling, hiking and even gardening offer a physical workout with the added benefit of getting outside and soaking up lots of mood-improving vitamin D from the sun.
Combining Exercise With Other Treatments
As previously mentioned, it is important to include exercise within a more formal rehabilitation process, as exercise is still very much a complementary therapy and should not replace traditional medically supervised therapies. Most rehabilitation centres will include exercise options alongside more traditional 12 Step programmes and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
One of the problems with trying to beat addiction through exercise alone is that exercise in itself can become addictive for those with an addictive nature. Whilst moderate amounts of exercise are beneficial, it is possible to cause serious damage to the body through over-exercising. The last thing you want to do is replace one damaging habit for another.
At Cassiobury Court we include various forms of exercise in our rehab programmes to suit your needs and interests. With regular medical and therapy appointments, as well as support from professionals, you are able to get into new habits without fear of them developing into problematic behaviours. We offer 12 months of aftercare to aid your long term recovery process and ensure that you stick with your new healthy habits even after you have left our treatment centre.
To find out more about what we offer, we can be reached on 01923 369 161 or you can text HELP to 83222.