Why is Exercise Important?

Exercise is important for much more than just the health of your body. Substance use and abuse changes your natural chemistry, especially over long periods of time. When abuse turns into addiction and becomes a dependency, it changes the neurotransmitters in your brain. These determine how you experience positive feelings like pleasure, reward, and enjoyment.

When these “happy chemicals” become oriented to harmful activities, there can be destructive consequences. As a result, those who struggle with substance use disorders (SUDs) often feel depressed and unmotivated when trying to stay sober. Their overall “down” mood in the recovery process can be a trigger for relapse. 

Exercise combats these low moods by releasing endorphins, the “happy chemicals,” throughout the brain and body. It may take time, but it’s never too late to start reprogramming your body toward health and wholeness.

How Does Exercise Affect Addiction Recovery?

Although recovery is no easy journey, there are a number of habits that you can practice to help ease negative feelings. When you start a consistent routine of physical activity, you will see a change in your mental health and overall recovery stability.

A recent review of the research on exercise and addiction recovery shows promising results. It demonstrated that over 75% of studies recorded positive outcomes for those in addiction recovery who were exposed to exercise. Specifically, outpatient clinics appeared to be the best place to receive these exercise recommendations. Reduced cravings and more days of substance abstinence are just a few of the measurable benefits to exercising while in recovery.

There are many more benefits to exercising but we’ve highlighted just a few more for you below. Don’t hesitate to get started and remember that even just 20 minutes a day can make a difference.

5 Benefits of Exercise While in Recovery

#1: Reduces Stress

If you’re in the process of addiction recovery, it’s very common to feel stressed or anxious. You may feel fear about the future, or guilt about the past. Physical activity can help to relieve stress that may be weighing on your mind. By extension, your body is experiencing this stress, too. Exercise reduces the amount of cortisol your body makes, which is known as the stress hormone. Therefore, you can calm your body by calming your mind, and calm your mind by calming your body.

# 2: Improves Sleep

Staying active also improves your sleep quality. Do you find yourself wanting deeper sleep at night? Deep sleep can have a significant impact on your recovery. Exercising during the day can help you fall asleep easier at night and remind your body when it’s time to wake up. In short, proper sleep is essential for making sure that your brain functions effectively and is operating at its best.

# 3: Benefits Mental and Physical Health

The mental and physical health benefits of exercise mean that it is also a good tool for coping and treating co-occurring disorders, from depression to chronic pain. One recent study shows a marked decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety over the course of six weeks with exercise and one-on-one coaching.

There are also numerous physical benefits to exercising regularly. Consistent light-intensity aerobic exercise can help your lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels. This reduces your risk for high cholesterol and cardiovascular (heart) diseases. If you can avoid the burden of preventable physical ailments, why not do so? Your recovery journey will only benefit from a healthier body and mind.

#4: Increased Dopamine Levels

We all know that the recovery journey takes patience and hard work. As a result, you may feel burnt out or low from time to time. However, you can still experience a boost of dopamine (and endorphins) by exercising a bit each day. If there’s a healthy, easy way to improve your mood, physical activity is the most straightforward option. Fitness is often the best option and the one that you need to help you boost your mood and have a more alert mind.

#5: Helps Prevent Relapse

As mentioned above, research has shown that those in recovery are more likely to abstain from substance abuse for longer durations if they exercise regularly. Having a fitness routine can offer stability and consistency in your day to day life. It can also be a helpful way to shift the mind away cravings or a tempting situation. Putting the mind and body to work in other ways is a proven way to curb old habits, which in turn can prevent relapse over time.

What Are Some Steps to Start Exercising?

The best way to start exercising is simply to start exercising. Try a short routines at first, even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes a day. Staying consistent is the more important factor and can still hold positive results for your mental health. Once you have this established and you find that exercise is enjoyable and effective, you can work your way up. Longer or more difficult routines have their place, too.

As far as specific exercises that are worth starting with, try swimming or fast-paced walking. These are both low-impact exercises that use the whole body. They’re also known to alleviate stress and help with cravings if you do them on a regular basis.

Yoga is also a good place to start and can be an effective form of exercise for recovery. This is because it emphasizes mental health while still moving the body. Sometimes participants also meditate while doing yoga, which can help the mind to work through any anxieties or negative thoughts.

If you want to incorporate socialization, team sports are a great way to combine fitness and group activities. This type of social connection can help increase a sense of belonging and self-esteem, both of which are essential in the recovery process. 

Recovery isn’t always an easy journey. But there are ways to help you succeed with small steps every day. If you feel stressed, sad, or have strong cravings, it can be a great alternative to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. To speak to a professional about further treatment options and resources, connect with Pinnacle Recovery today to start your journey.