When in recovery, many clients turn to a hobby to help fill their time and improve their mental well-being.
One of the most common lifestyle choices is to take up exercising, which is great for making your recovery experience a positive and rewarding one.
If you think about it, exercising may very well be the polar opposite of drug or alcohol abuse.
While drug and alcohol abuse can cause long-term physiological and mental concerns, exercise not only drastically increases physical and mental health, but it can also help safeguard a recovering addict from relapse.
Of course, if you’re a recovering addict, it can be difficult to revert so suddenly from one behaviour to another.
Committing to and sustaining a workout regimen can be challenging in the best of times, so if you’re battling an addiction, it may very well be the furthest thing from your mind.
However, research has proven time and time again that exercising can be a huge help to those in recovery, and it can also provide several mental and physical health benefits.
The science of exercise and your brain
From a scientific standpoint, the benefits of exercise are widespread and numerous. Aside from the obvious physical benefits such as weight loss, cardiovascular fitness, and a decreased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, exercise is also remarkably effective at protecting your brain.
Research indicates that exercise can increase the amount of new nerve connections in your brain, which helps heal from any damage your addictions may have caused. Long-term alcohol usage is especially notorious for wreaking havoc on white matter in the brain, which links brain cells to one another.
Moreover, certain drugs – in high enough doses – can cause nerve cells in your brain to lose their dopamine transporters, which inhibits your capacity to feel motivation and reward. Exercise is known to have the opposite effect. It is able to release dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins – all chemicals that are known to cause relaxation and cheerfulness.
To put it simply: exercise has the power to literally create happiness within your brain.
The benefits of exercise while in recovery
Exercising isn’t only important to the recovery process – it’s beneficial to your general well-being. Here are some further benefits to maintaining a fitness or exercise regimen while in recovery:
It helps structure your days
Whether you have a set workout plan or you’re simply finding yoga videos on YouTube, exercising helps take up time that might otherwise be spent fixated on your past addictions.
It gives you a sense of control
A life of addiction generally contains very little structure.
A regular fitness regimen can help organize an otherwise structureless lifestyle and give you a better sense of physical and mental autonomy.
It reduces stress
Exercise, by its very nature, helps with stress reduction in a way that’s healthy both mentally and physically.
It gives you confidence
When you take care of your body and mind, you’ll feel better than when you don’t. Better yet, your increased self-esteem will stick around as long as you stick to your newfound workout habits.
It reduces drug-seeking behaviour
Exercise is proven to reduce the drive toward drug-seeking behaviour and cravings, providing alternative behaviours and inciting positive change.
It rebuilds and rewires your brain
Extended drug and alcohol abuse can damage the connections between brain cells.
But, regular exercise (especially aerobic workouts like jogging or cycling) can help rebuild those connections, which in turn helps rebuild dopamine and endorphin transporters, making your recovery experience happier and more positive.
How do I start finding happiness through exercise?
For many people, the very idea of exercising can be daunting. Those who struggle to start might find one (or several) of these phrases running through their heads:
‘I’ve never exercised before – why start now?’
‘I don’t know how.’
‘I won’t be good at it.’
‘I don’t have time.’
‘I’m too out of shape.’
Do any of these sound like you?
When you’re in recovery, it’s important to be open-minded and remind yourself that you, as a person, are stronger than your addiction.
So, if you find you’re struggling to get started, remember that exercise doesn’t have to be complicated.
Workouts can take many forms – yoga, powerlifting, running, cycling, pushups, sports – and most often, the simplest solution is the one that’s likely to bring you the most joy. Research even indicates that something as easy as walking for 30 minutes a day can have huge health benefits.
The best thing to do is to just get out there and start. Whether it’s a new sport, or via an app on your phone, experiment a little and find something that you love to do, and stick with it. The structure and ease will soon follow.
For recovering addicts, a healthy relationship with fitness helps mend your mind in a way that few other hobbies can.