Does exercise help people in recovery from addiction?
At Live Rehab we use a holistic approach for addiction and recovery treatment which means we focus on the whole body rather than just stopping the drug, alcohol, or behavior addiction. A piece of this is making sure your physical health is in tip top shape so that you have a better chance at succeeding in quitting your addiction, fighting triggers and having a healthy lifestyle with long term recovery. Part of taking care of your physical body is making sure you are incorporating fitness into your daily lives.
Why Fitness is Important in Addiction Recovery Treatment
First off, I want to recognize that the recovery process is hard work and for any person in recovery, sometimes just thinking about workouts or engaging in fitness may seem near impossible. And that’s okay.
Let’s start this by talking about why fitness plays a crucial role in your ability to completely recover from your drug, alcohol, or behavior addiction. We’re not talking about suddenly becoming major athletes with huge muscles. We’re talking about getting the right amount of physical activity for your health which will help reduce stress levels so you can be prepared to overcome withdrawal symptoms and triggers.
Dr. Hartney stated at verywellmind.org that, “Exercise has been investigated as a treatment for reducing the risk of relapse to addictive behavior and has been shown to reduce drug cravings and improve treatment outcomes. “
Focus on the Health Component
At Live Rehab we don’t focus specifically on body weight, weight loss, or weight gain unless that is something you feel you need in order to obtain optimal health. We focus on incorporating healthy activities into your daily routine so that you can go on to live a healthy life in recovery. Incorporating fitness into your daily routing shows strong mental health benefits and an overall higher quality of life.
Studies not only show that regular types of exercise has numerous health benefits and increases mood but a regular exercise regimen also reduces the likelihood of relapse and helps with withdrawals, stress reduction, reduces craving, provides physical benefits and helps manage triggers. The more you focus on your overall health, the better chances you have for a full recovery.
Exercise in Addiction Recovery
Frontiers in Psychiatry published a study in Us National Library of Medicine that stated, “Accumulating evidence shows that exercise influences many of the same signaling molecules and neuroanatomical structures that mediate the positive reinforcing effects of drugs. Previous studies have revealed that exercise produces protective effects in procedures designed to model different transitional phases that occur during the development of, and recovery from, a substance use disorder.”
Another current study showed that swimming reduces the severity of physical and psychological dependence and voluntary morphine consumption in morphine dependent rats.
Exercise, nutrition, and sleep go hand in hand especially in addiction recovery. You can eat well, but if you’re not moving your body every single day then eating well won’t cut it. It goes the other way too – you can’t work out every day and then eat crappy food – you won’t see and feel the results that you need. And when we talk about results, I’m talking about the way you feel about yourself in recovery.
Overcoming Health Challenges after a Behavior or Substance Abuse Addiction
The body is extremely resilient- surprisingly resilient. Chances are – you have not been focusing on your health as much as you’ve needed because your addictive behaviors have taken precedence over everything else. But don’t let that discourage you – the sooner you start to focus on this, the easier things will become and you will soon start to notice the mental benefits as well. So, how exactly do you get started?
Find a plan VS Making your own
Let’s now talk about how to figure out what to do. So you have two options here:
- You can find a fitness plan and use that or
- You can make your own plan
Let’s dig a little deeper on how to decide.
First, let’s talk about finding a fitness plan. There are so many fitness plans you can find online. You need to decide what type of fitness you are interested in. Maybe it’s running, hiking, biking, lifting weights, or just general routine exercise like going to a gym. If you like more traditional fitness, there’s no need to reinvent the exercise wheel. Once you decide on something then it’s time to hit the internet.
So let’s say you chose running. There are tons of running apps that you can purchase or I’m sure there are free ones too. From there, you need to narrow it down to what you think will work best for you. I know a lot of people in recovery have had success with couch to 5k but there are so many others as well.
Or, let’s say you want to hike more. There are also hiking apps where they show you the nearest trails, mountains, etc. Same thing with swimming or biking. Or perhaps you want to lift weights. Find a plan or maybe pick a program like Crossfit. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that you find enjoyable and fun. When fitness is fun it is more likely to turn into a healthy habit. The great thing about following a plan is that you don’t have to think about it. Someone else is literally telling you what to do and no doubt in a few weeks, you’ll be in great shape and will start to notice changes – as long as you follow the plan.
Now for some people, following a plan may not be your thing and that’s okay too! If that’s you then make your own plan. Here’s how to do it. Pick an activity you enjoy or maybe more than one activity. Once you pick your activity, think about what your goals will be for that activity. For example, if you choose biking, maybe you start with biking a mile a day, 3 times per week, and increase it .5 miles each week until you can start biking 5 miles a day 3 times per week or 4 miles a day 5 times per week.
Start with your end goal and work backwards.
If you’re a runner, maybe your goal is to run faster or run further. Or maybe you want to get stronger and lift weights. What are your weight lifting goals? Perhaps your exercise program will include high-intensity interval training.
Gathering necessary items for success
In order for you to be super successful it’s important to gather all the tools you need. Let’s say you chose the home workout program Insanity. You would need some weights and maybe some new workout clothes. If you chose biking – has your bike had a tune up? Do you have the right shoes to work out in? Maybe your workout plan requires a heart rate monitor or a yoga mat. It’s important to research exercise routines before you attempt them so you can gather items you may need to prevent a physical injury.
Whatever you need, get it.
You are likely saving a bunch of money by not indulging in your addiction or addictive behaviours. With the money you save, you deserve to put it back into yourself. When you start to invest in yourself, in your health specifically, other areas of your life will open up and you’ll reap the benefits. It’s not okay to splurge on drugs, alcohol, video games, porn, etc.. It’s 100% okay to splurge on your health. Think of this as an investment. An investment towards your future and your health.
Making a Physical Activity schedule
Now it’s time to put all of this into action.
Similar to a nutrition schedule, you’ll want to schedule your fitness times. Let’s say your plan is 5 days per week. Take a look at your calendar and figure out what 5 days work best for you. Maybe you have a late meeting every Tuesday so Tuesday may not be the best day. Then think about the best times – before work, after work, during your lunch break? Late at night, on the weekends. What works for your schedule? Remember, you are in control of this.
Now take a weekly planner (either a physical planner or one on your phone) and start plugging it in. Personally, I just use my google calendar. It keeps me focused but everyone has their own ways of staying focused. The important thing is that you take time to think this through.
I had a client who was trying to be more physically active. She went as far as choosing a plan but was constantly failing. I asked her to tell me what days she had scheduled to do Zumba – she had signed for a Zumba class and she said “Oh I don’t really have specific days I just try to go when I can and I’ve been really busy lately and keep running out of time”. That doesn’t work. We’re all super busy and if we don’t make time in our busy schedules, it’s not going to magically appear.
So make the time and schedule it out.
That’s the difference between being successful or not.
Benefits of Exercise with a fitness tracker
There are so many options and of course this all depends on your budget but if you don’t have a fitness tracker yet, I highly encourage you to get one. The reason for this is fitness trackers hold you accountable and they show your growth and progress which is super exciting to see. They range anywhere from $15.00 to $300.00. I personally recommend just a basic fitbit but if you can afford more – that’s super cool too! Not only can you track your fitness but you can also track your nutrition, sleep, and heart rate. Take some time looking around and see what you can come up with. If you already have one then great!
Make sure you’re wearing it every day!
Move your body more (10k steps per day)
Now you know the importance of regular fitness but did you also know how important it is to move your body every single day for maximum benefits? Being complacent is one of the worst things you can do to your body. If you’re complacent you are at a higher risk of developing arthritis, heart disease, and of course you’re more likely to be overweight, and yes even if you regularly exercise.
Think about this – if you follow a plan that has you doing intense physical fitness 4-5 times per week, one hour per day – what happens to the rest of your time? Of course, it’s important to relax but that doesn’t mean you work out for one hour a day and then do nothing for the other 13 hours you’re awake. Even gentle exercise has cardiovascular benefits so if you’re not able to get a good quality workout in, something is always better than nothing.
I get that most of you probably have some sort of job where you sit at a desk and it’s really hard to find time to get up and move.
A healthy person will aim for 10k – 12k steps per day. You’ll want to be sure you’re getting physical exercise every hour too. For example, the fitbit sends a reminder at 50 minutes after the hour letting you know if you’ve met your hourly step goal. You can set your hourly goal to meet your needs but the standard is around 250 steps per hour.
So when you’re up and about it’s also important to think of creative ways to be more active in your daily life. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, maybe walk to the corner store instead of drive and incorporate an evening walk, every night. There are benefits of physical activity in smaller consistent amounts emotionally and physically including improved mood, mental benefits, less stress, improved joint function and less likely to have symptoms of chronic diseases.
Making fitness fun is good for your mental health
Fitness doesn’t have to be a drag.
You get to control what you want to do and when you do it. I don’t typically recommend working out at a gym because I know for some individuals in recovery, going to the gym is uncomfortable. If you’re a gym rat I totally get that as some people genuinely enjoy their time there but if that’s not you, don’t feel bad about it. Some people prefer fitness classes or hiring a personal trainer but there are other ways to meet your fitness goals.
This isn’t about excessive exercise, this is about changing your exercise behavior so that you enjoy it.
Think of something you enjoy and take it up as a hobby. You see a fitness plan is a great way to get you started but they generally are only 6-12 weeks long and you’ll want to be sure you keep up your fitness level and exercise even after that. A fitness or physical exercise plan is a great way to jump start your body, but as you progress and start to see the end, start thinking about how you want to keep up fitness for the rest of your life.
Maybe it’s preparing for a marathon or a triathlon, rock climbing, or training to hike mount everest (only half kidding on that one) but have fun! Go swimming, do some yoga at sunrise, take long walks in the park. There are many forms of exercise such as aerobic exercise, flexibility exercises or low-impact exercise programs you can incorporate. Remember, this is all about taking good care of yourself so you can be the best person you can be. Recovery from drugs, alcohol or problematic behaviors doesn’t have to be so serious or hard – make the most out of your sober days and don’t forget to laugh.
Be careful about trading one addiction for another.
Just like anything else, too much of one thing can be harmful. You don’t want to have an exercise addiction or pick up damaging habits. Your relationship with exercise should be healthy and fun. Compulsive exercise, loss of control, obsessing over body weight loss, or body image issues could be a symptom of exercise addiction. If that is happening might be a good idea to talk to mental health professionals to get mental health medical advice. Exercise addiction can cause negative symptoms and be harmful to the body.
Is it best to combine Fitness with other addiction treatment approaches?
I’m proud of you for being here and reading this blog.
Recovery from alcohol, substances or a behavior is not a one size fits all. What may be easy for some may not be easy for you and vice versa. Our program at Live Rehab focuses on helping people fight their addictions from home, without having to leave to go to an expensive treatment center or rehab facility. Whether you struggle with addictive behavior, alcohol or substance abuse, we have courses for you.
We’ve been helping people who struggle with behaviors, drug or alcohol addiction obtain full recoveries online even before the covid-19 pandemic. The beauty about getting sober at home is that nobody is there to judge you or make you feel bad about anything which will help with the positive effects of exercise.
Take your time with this and don’t overdo anything but stay actively engaged and continue to make small improvements each and every day. Remember, fitness and exercise routines are only a piece of pie so be sure to focus on all areas for the best possible outcome.
If you have any questions about treatment options please feel free to reach out.