Falling into addiction causes stress on both one’s mental and physical wellbeing, and when entering recovery and sobriety it’s important to work to rebuild both of these key components. The time during an inpatient recovery program teaches the importance of restoring the bridge between the two. And during post-treatment, it is important to do what you can to maintain the work put into building the bridge. The good news is that physical activity can help shift the tide on the negative effects of addiction and detox and bring you some positive results. Whether you are new in addiction recovery or have been away from harmful substances for many years, there are several proven benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety. 

Exercise For Recovery And Sobriety

Let’s talk about the benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety.

Stress Reduction 

When individuals cross the line into alcohol or drug dependence, often the hoped-for release of stress once achieved by having a glass of wine or beer after work is but a distant memory. Ever-increasing amounts of alcohol or drugs are consumed in a chase to alleviate stress. However, the relief from stress becomes more elusive and eventually disappears entirely. Often, alcohol or drug use becomes a direct cause of stress. So what happens when an individual makes the decision to receive drug or alcohol treatment, does the aforementioned stress disappear, too? If only it were that simple. 

Fortunately, stress reduction can be achieved through almost any physical activity that raises the heart rate. Stress is something that recovering individuals will have to learn to navigate successfully if they hope to stay clean and sober. Regular exercise has been proven to alleviate stress both in the short and long terms. During exercise, chemicals are released in the brain serving to combat stress. Therefore, developing a healthy routine that can be utilized when stress related to life, work, or family shows up will go a long way to helping recovering individuals return to a place of balance.

Improved sleep is a valuable result of exercise for recovery and sobriety.

Issues related to problematic sleep are common, especially in early recovery. As the body and mind continue to return to a more normal state, many people in recovery find exercise also helps restore a normal sleep schedule. 

Based on available studies, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. , medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital. “But there’s still some debate as to what time of day you should exercise. I encourage people to listen to their bodies to see how well they sleep in response to when they work out,” she adds.

Creating a healthy routine with exercise for recovery and sobriety.

Recovering addicts often find themselves with a lot of free time now that they are no longer focused solely on their drug of choice. If this void is left unfulfilled, it can be the quickest way to relapse as the recovering addict struggles to fill this time appropriately. Exercise can become a healthy activity to fill this void and keep the person from relapsing out of boredom. 

Those who exercise regularly report increased feelings of self-confidence and optimism and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. This is in part has to do with the body regulating and calibrating itself during exercise, but it also has to do with feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self-worth as you see your body transform and your goals reached. As you reach certain benchmarks you feel more accomplished, and reinforces the goal of continued sobriety as attainable.

Prevent relapse

Perhaps the greatest incentive to get regular exercise in addiction recovery is that regular movement can help prevent a return to alcohol or drug use. A collection of studies suggest that regular exercise can increase the abstinence rate for substance use by 95 percent. These studies also found that exercise can help manage stress, depression and anxiety, which can all contribute to substance use.

Exercise naturally and positively alters your brain chemistry. 

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which create a natural high. These are the same endorphins your body released while you abused substances. However, abuse of drugs and alcohol causes an imbalance that interferes with a person’s ability to feel pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction. 

Dedicated physical activity during treatment and recovery will help you reintroduce natural levels of endorphins in your system. This not only helps you feel better but reteaches your body that it is capable of regulating your own brain chemistry and mood in healthy, natural ways.

How can you incorporate exercise for recovery and sobriety?

Running

Besides being a highly rewarding exercise that strengthens the heart and respiratory system, running brings unique physical and mental benefits to those struggling with excessive stress—and with drug addiction. Most people who struggle with addiction are looking for an easy means of relieving pain or stress. By providing an alternate, healthier method of relief and mood improvement, running and other aerobic exercise helps suppress drug cravings and reduce temptations to relapse. It also can help remedy other health problems caused by addiction. 

Many physical benefits of running are obtainable in a short period of time, such as increased stamina, weight loss and stronger heart and lungs. However, the first improvements noticed are typically mental. There’s even some evidence that running helps mitigate drug-inflicted brain damage. You’ll do even better if you think of it not as running away from addiction, but as running toward that brighter future.

Yoga

Yoga is increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment programs and throughout recovery to help prevent relapse, reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, and provide a healthy outlet to cope with potential triggers and daily life stressors. One of the great things about yoga is that it doesn’t require expensive equipment or a special location; it can be practiced pretty much anywhere at any time as needed. Coming from the Sanskrit work yuj, which is interpreted to mean “union,” yoga is an ancient technique designed to bring mind and body closer together with the use of exercise, meditation, and breathing.

The practice of yoga may actually help to balance some parts of the brain and body that are impacted by drug abuse in a natural way. In addition to the physical aspects of yoga, there are also many emotional benefits as well. When practicing yoga, people are attuned to their bodies, learn to regulate their breathing, and to really listen to their bodies. This can create a self-awareness of how things may make a person feel a certain way in a nonjudgmental fashion.

Swimming

If you’ve ever felt refreshed, relaxed. and ready to tackle the day after a swim, you’re not alone.

A 2012 survey of nearly 1,200 swimmers aged 16 to 45 around the world conducted by swimwear manufacturer Speedo investigated how swimmers felt about their sport. According to the survey:

  • 74 percent of respondents said swimming helps release stress and tension.
  • 68 percent of respondents said being in the water helps them feel good about themselves.
  • 70 percent of respondents said swimming helps them feel mentally refreshed.

Swimming has some particular advantages because it can be done at a pace suitable for someone who needs time to rebuild physical strength and stamina. Swimming is a low impact exercise that lends itself to all ages, all fitness levels and all types of health histories. Several studies worldwide, including one by the European Journal of Pharmacology, conclude swimming to be effective in tackling addiction and reducing withdrawal symptoms, even for top-level addictions such as additions to opioids and drugs.

Hiking

You don’t have to hike a mountain in order for it to be beneficial to your health and recovery. In fact, simply being outside in nature has therapeutic effects of its own. Going for a hike through the park or in the woods near your home is a great way to exercise, get some fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin (and the resulting mood-lifting dose of vitamin D), and gain perspective.

 It’s important to remember in recovery that the world is a big place — there’s more out there than just your addiction demons. The world is also an incredibly beautiful place, and it can be easy to lose sight of that when you’re facing so many ugly pieces of your past. Hiking can be a healthy reminder that there’s so much more to be grateful for in the sober world than there ever was when you were using.