How Physical Fitness Facilitates Addiction Recovery


According to recent statistics, 23.5 million people age 12 or older in the United States have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction In addition, 1 in 10 adults have been in recovery from drugs and alcohol at some point in their lives. That’s why it’s no wonder that the rehab industry raked in $35 billion in 2015 alone. But does rehab even work? Many people have their doubts. The success rate in AA is reported to hover between 5 and 10 percent. And reliable studies of rehab centers are difficult to find. Suffice it to say, there’s no surefire way to recover from addiction, but one activity that has proven helpful for people is exercise. So here are some tips on how to implement a fitness regimen as a successful transition into addiction recovery.


Exercise Plan

Both drug counselors and recovering addicts talk about how working out often helps people bounce back from addiction. So here are some low-maintenance tips to keep you motivated through this process: Drink a cup of coffee first thing every morning. Then, walk into the gym with a plan. Get a playlist going to push you through that last set. Warm up and mobilize beforehand so that your body anticipates the burn. Pick the right weight for you, and only move on after you feel like you’ve mastered it. Then, afterwards, get enough sleep, to revitalize you for the next day.


The Effects of Exercise On Your Brain

Exercise spurs a host of mental perks. Working out eases anxiety, treats depression, calms your ADHD, sharpens your memory and makes your sleep restful. All this is beneficial for people in recovery, who often wrestle with temptation, regret their past decisions, miss their friends and family and wonder if their life has come to a dead-end. So exercise provides you with structure, especially during this period of psychological turmoil.

Studies have shown that drugs flood your brain with neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Once you come off drugs, your brain is depleted of those chemicals and you feel washed out. Regular exercise, though, has been shown to prompt the growth of new brain cells.


The Effects of Exercise On Your Body

For all the ways that exercise helps your brain, it provides just as many benefits to your body. Physical fitness aids your digestion, slows the aging process, helps prevent osteoporosis and controls our risk of getting cancer or coming down with stroke. In addition, exercise improves your oxygen intake, which facilitates respiratory health and strengthens your bones and joints. Research from 2008 also found that the majority of people who exercised reported improved time management, better interpersonal performance and felt more motivated to focus on other work and get it done in time.


A Note of Caution

Golf, rugby, karate and badminton – each sport comes with its own benefit (and downside). What’s important, though, is that you choose one that you love, so that you’ll keep doing it, as opposed to feeling like exercise is another part of your daily grind. So be sure not to overdo it. Choose an activity that’s age-appropriate. Because your focus should be on recovery, not sculpting out the perfect body, whenever you feel like you’re pushing yourself too far, slow down. Remember, you’re in rehab. You have enough to deal with, and the last thing you want to do is injure yourself.


To start this whole process, perhaps the best thing to do is to take pressure off yourself. American culture is awash in images of airbrushed fitness models. Don’t feel like you need to look like one of these people. Instead, keep in mind that what you’re doing shows enormous discipline: Throwing off years of bad habits and rediscovering healthy routines. Think of exercise as the healthy anti-drug. So, get out there and exercise.


Susan Treadway, guest author

Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

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