It is common knowledge that physical fitness through exercise is one of the most reliable indicators of health and well-being. The benefits of working out include a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, improved muscle strength, and better mental health. A reliable fitness routine (you can even use some tech to boost your efforts) is a key to living a long and healthy life, and this becomes particularly important when you are recovering from an addiction.
Building a New Habit
According to James Clear, an author focusing on habit-forming, the key to getting rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a new, healthy one. This is the first reason why exercise is useful in addiction recovery. It is never enough to simply decide you are no longer going to drink or do drugs — you need something to do when you get the compulsion to use.
Think about your drug habits. When do you usually give in? Is it first thing in the morning, or after a long day at work? When finding the right workout, try to schedule your routine for these times. This keeps you busy and active at the times of the day when you most need a distraction.
The Natural High
Replacing your drug habit with exercise is not likely to help much if you still feel on edge by the end of your workout. This is where the famous “runner’s high” kicks in. Many researchers have theorized that one of the reasons why fitness helps with addiction is that the natural rush you experience after intense exercise can act as a suitable replacement for the high from drugs.
For a long time, scientists thought that the runner’s high was due to a rush of endorphins. However, new research has changed this. According to the New York Times, the runner’s high is caused by the body’s natural endocannabinoids, the same substance that makes marijuana enjoyable. In short, exercise doesn’t just feel good — it triggers the same sensations as a drug.
The runner’s high can be triggered by several forms of exercise, not just running. However, the reason we call it that is because it is more likely to happen after endurance-based cardiovascular exercise at a moderate intensity. If running is not your thing, try other cardio workouts such as spinning, aerobics, or the elliptical. You can find these activities at a local gym, but if a gym membership is outside your budget, refer to your health insurance to see if it includes discounts or coverage. Seniors with qualifying Medicare plans can take advantage of the SilverSneakers benefit, which allows you to access thousands of fitness-related facilities nationwide.
Many find that fitness trackers help them stay motivated during their cardiovascular workouts. A fitness tracker can monitor your progress with such metrics as distance traveled, calories burned, and heart rate. Some newly released models can even track sun exposure and how well you sleep. If you’re curious about new models, the Apple Watch Series 4 features a heart rate sensor, emergency assistance, and fall detection. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, the Fitbit Inspire has five-day battery life and automatic exercise recognition.
The physical benefits of exercise on addiction recovery are fairly straightforward. However, it’s not just about your body. After all, substance addiction is often classified as a mental disorder for a reason. Your dependence is taking place in your brain, and it can be closely interrelated with various co-occurring mental illnesses.
The most common of these are anxiety and depression, both of which have been shown to be alleviated by regular exercise. Fitness can also significantly reduce stress, one of the most common triggers for substance use, both as a short-term relief and as a long-term stress management solution. Just going for a walk, particularly in nature, is an easy way to get these benefits, and weight training has also been shown to be particularly good for mental health.
Improving your mental health is extremely important to addiction recovery, and exercise can be a great help. However, it is not a cure. Do not hesitate to ask your doctors about medication and therapy to accompany your recovery efforts.
In fact, it is important to remember that exercise is not a cure for substance abuse, either. A workout schedule on its own is unlikely to solve your addiction issues. However, when combined with other healthy behaviors — such as eating a balanced diet, socializing, and getting restful sleep — it is an integral part of an all-around healthy routine. When accompanied by appropriate counseling and treatment, the stability of such a routine provides you with a solid foundation for long-term recovery.