The Connection Between Physical Fitness and Addiction Recovery

Posted on: March 8th, 2018 by Pacific Ridge |

Room with gym equipment in the sport clubWhen you think of addiction recovery, you likely imagine an anonymous 12-step meeting or remember a phrase from the Big Book. However, for many individuals, genuine recovery includes numerous components, like official programs, new personal habits, and the support of a caring social network.

One of the components that many rehabilitation programs use to help newly recovering addicts begin their journey is a focus on physical fitness. This focus may be on recreation and exercise, nutrition, or both.

In this blog, we discuss the connection between physical fitness and addiction recovery.

Brain Chemistry Changes

What you put into your body and how you use your body can both impact brain chemistry. For example, moderate exercise releases endorphins that combat physical pain, uplift mood, and improve concentration. Similarly, good nutrition can improve endurance and emotional control.

When you understand how healthy habits can positively alter your brain chemistry, you can use these methods to counterbalance withdrawal symptoms, distract from potential relapse triggers, and replenish the strength you need to stay clean and sober.

The positive effects on your brain chemistry may be enhanced by exercising outdoors where the sights, sounds, and smells of nature can increase endorphin release.

Emotional Outlet

Many addicts use substance abuse to suppress unpleasant emotions. During the detoxification, rehabilitation, and recovery processes, these once hidden emotions may rise to the surface unexpectedly.

During recovery, many individuals feel periods of overwhelming anger, sadness, anxiety, or resentment. Finding a way to cope with these emotions when they arise helps a recovering addict stay clean. Exercise can be a healthy emotional outlet in this situation.

You may have to try several types of exercise to find which works best as your emotional outlet. Some individuals may use martial arts or boxing to channel their anger productively, while others may use swimming or outdoors walks to help calm their anxiety. Still other individuals may use dance to physically express their emotions.

You may have to try several forms of exercise to find the one that is most effective for you. If you participate in a rehabilitation program with a focus on fitness, you may have the opportunity to learn several new exercise methods before you identify your preferred way to break a sweat.

Physical activity focuses and concentrates the mind, providing a distraction from emotional pain. Additionally, because exercise releases endorphins, as discussed in the previous section, when you get your body moving, you may feel more hopeful or content as well.

Physical Healing

Addictive substances can have mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical side effects. Many of these substances ravage the body, weakening an addict physically and contributing to secondary conditions like heart or liver diseases.

While some of these effects may not be reversible, many of the physical changes that you or a loved one underwent while using can be undone through conscientious choices to lead a healthier life. As you build your mental defenses against relapse, you must also restore the nutrients and overall health that substance abuse deprived your body of.

Many addicts suffer from a form of malnutrition due to the amount of nutrients the substance leached from their bodies. For example, many alcoholics are significantly deficient in vitamins B, C, and K, while opiate addicts are often lacking in calcium, iron, and vitamins B6 and D.

When you prioritize giving your body the nutrition that it needs, you’ll feel better, and the physical damage done to your brain, cells, and nerve receptors will begin to heal. You may be surprised at how much nutrition can help. For example, restoring vitamin C levels will reduce your chance of illness, while adequate vitamin D fights insomnia and bodily fatigue.

Similarly, exercise stimulates the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This stimulation improves sleep quality, encourages new nerve growth, and counteracts many of the secondary conditions associated with substance abuse.

Use of Empty Time

For many recovering addicts, filling time is critical to staying clean. Boredom and isolation can magnify negative thoughts and emotions, which may put addicts at a higher risk of relapse. While each individual in recovery must learn how to be alone with his or her own mind, many must start their journey by filling their time productively.

Regular exercise, such as a set lifting routine or distance-specific treadmill session, gives you a way to track your time. It may help you to monitor your heart rate, calories burned, or repetitions completed during exercise so you can actually see the progress you make.

Nutritional priorities can also give recovering addicts readymade activities to fill their time, such as taking health or cooking classes, preparing meals, or shopping for specialized ingredients.

Healthy habits, like regular exercise and personalized nutrition, can help you or your loved one stay clean, sober, and future-focused during addiction recovery.

At Pacific Ridge, we stress the importance of physical fitness and recreation in recovery.  To learn more, call and talk with a member of our knowledgeable staff.

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