Recovery and Exercise: Making Lifestyle Changes
By: Jeniffer Scott
When you make the decision to overcome addiction, more than just one part of your life has to change. Your addiction has been ingrained in everything you do -- from who you hang out with to where you work to your hobbies. For many people, a successful recovery from substance misuse requires an entirely new long-term routine.
This can sound scary. This can sound hard, impossible, or like too much work. Maybe you have tried recovery before -- maybe several times. Don’t let those thoughts stop you from trying and keep trying even after a relapse occurs once, twice or dozens of times. Addiction is a chronic disease, which means relapse isn’t just possible; it’s likely. Every time you make the effort to conquer your addiction, you learn something new. You gain a new tool for long-term success. Let that knowledge empower you to try again and take steps toward not just addiction recovery, but also a healthier life all-around. One way to achieve both is to focus on physical fitness.
For as long as you have been in the throes of addiction, drugs or alcohol has been changing your brain chemistry -- sometimes permanently. Part of overcoming addiction is learning natural ways to manage cognition and mood. Exercise is a major player in stimulating the brain. Not only can a physical fitness regimen help alleviate the damage done, but it can also rouse some of those same feel-good neurotransmitters as your substance. Working out releases endorphins, which help combat depression, regulate highs and lows and provides a healthy distraction from temptation.
For exercise to work as a tool to combat addiction, it has to be something you enjoy doing. Getting off the couch and going for a run is a hard habit to create for any average person, but for someone working through the ups and downs of addiction, it can be especially difficult.
First, explore different workouts until you find a few you enjoy. Take a spin class at your gym, join a running group or sign up for dance lessons. It’s good to have a variety of exercisesyou enjoy so you don’t get burned out, and even better to focus on a goal to achieve. Do you want to build leaner muscle? Start taking Pilates or weight training. Do you want to improve your endurance? Sign up for a 5K or a 10K race and begin training. When physical fitness aligns with something you enjoy, you are more likely to build a long-term habit.
The stress of dealing with a substance abuse disorder is two-fold: You are battling the physical symptoms of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, while also dealing with the psychological reasons you turned to substances in the first place. Maybe you have a health issue that resulted in chronic physical pain. Perhaps you have unresolved trauma that is emotionally hard to bear. Either way, addiction has become your way of coping, and when you take it away, you feel crushed by the weight of stress and anxiety.
Exercise can help change all that. Working out--from weightlifting to yoga to running-- is proven to be an effective way to manage and eliminate stress. Making daily exercise a part of your recovery plan gives you an outlet for releasing physical tension, emotional duress and letting go of ruminative thoughts.
Recovery is hard enough alone, and exercise can offer you a social outletthat is supportive and encouraging, whether or not the people you workout with know you’re working on overcoming addiction. That kind of camaraderie is another lifestyle change--getting you further away from people who make damaging choices by surrounding yourself with those making healthier ones.