Following an exercise program, like walking every day or going to the gym, is a common New Year’s resolution. In fact, weight loss, health, and fitness are the most common themes for New Year’s resolutions, and with good reason. Exercise makes you feel better, increasing blood flow to stimulate the muscles, producing endorphins which naturally reduce stress, and often comes with the additional perk of making our clothes fit just a little bit better.
No matter what the reason behind your New Year’s resolution to exercise, it’s probably a good thing to start. And, if you’re in recovery, it will help you to stay clean or sober in numerous ways. Exercise is probably a bit better for you than you realized, and hopefully the following information about how exercise improves your recovery will help you stick to your new exercise plan.
Does Exercise Really Help with Addiction?
You probably know that when you don’t get enough exercise, you start to feel bad. Exercise is a natural and crucial part of the body’s operating mechanism, it’s designed to move and to do. No matter your age or weight, your muscles need to be used, and your body knows that. Exercising helps the muscles to release chemicals like lactic acid, to grow, to digest protein and fats, and to stimulate the nervous and intermuscular systems. When you work out, run, walk, do yoga, go dancing, or anything else that involves movement, your body produces endorphins including serotonin and dopamine. You might recognize these as the ‘happiness drugs’, and likely the drugs that your brain produces and is primarily craving when you’re addicted.
So, exercise can make you feel better, can improve your mental health, and can make you happier. All of that will improve your approach to addiction and your ability to stay clean or sober without you ever losing a single pound.
Exercise to Destress
Stress is one of the number-one causes of substance-seeking behavior. It’s also one of the most well documented contributors to addiction and to relapse. But, exercise can help. While exercise is not a miracle cure for stress, it produces endorphins that relax your brain while lowering the blood pressure, and increasing blood circulation throughout the body. Exercise can greatly help to reduce stress and even reduce anger . That’s a big deal for a recovering addict, because stress can push you over the edge into relapse.
You know best when you’re stressed, so if you can plan to exercise when you know you’re most stressed, like when you come home after work, or before you go home, you can burn off stress and reduce the temptation to use or drink to destress.
Exercise to Fight Cravings
The average craving lasts 15-20 minutes. That’s it. In that time, millions of people slip up and reach for a drink or purchase and use drugs. You may have done so yourself, and that’s okay as long as you keep moving forward. Psychologists often recommend that you find something to do when cravings hit. If you’re at work, it’s obviously harder to exercise, but if you’re at home, there’s a lot you can do. A 20-minute yoga routine, or a kickboxing workout, or a bike ride. If you can keep yourself occupied, and stay focused on something instead, you can make it through.
Exercise also works to reduce cravings in other ways by producing tiny doses of endorphins that make you happy and relaxed. This will help you to feel satisfied and will take the edge off the cravings.
Exercise to Occupy Your Time
Boredom is a surprising but deadly trigger for many of us. If you have nothing to do and don’t know what to do, you will get lonely and bored. It’s an unfortunate pitfall for recovering addicts, who are often left with a significant amount of time on their hands and no real idea of how to fill it. In recovery, we often don’t have as many friends as we used to, may not have hobbies or may have let them slip to the side, and otherwise just have a lot more time than we’re used to.
Exercise is a great way to occupy your time with something that will make you feel better. If you don’t get out much, try going to a gym or a sports club where you can be around other people and exercise with them. Yoga, group sports, and team activities are all great ways to get social interaction and exercise in at once.
However, you should also be careful not to overextend yourself. If you’re exhausted and alone, you’ll have more trouble saying no if cravings hit.
Exercise to Build Your Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem is a problem faced by millions of addicts, both as a cause and a result of addiction. Many people who struggle with self-esteem issues are more likely to use drugs or drink alcohol as a social lubricant, just to feel normal or to be okay in a public place. Once hooked, drugs and alcohol force you to change your image of yourself to either hide your addiction from yourself or account for it in some other way. This often results in massive damage to the ego or self-esteem, which can be difficult to repair.
Good self-esteem is crucial to being healthy and happy, and exercise can help. By boosting your image of what you can do, building discipline, and building healthy routines, you can improve your self-esteem and start being happier with yourself and your choices.
Exercise to Improve Your Health
If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, you likely did a lot of damage to your health. Drugs and alcohol inhibit the cardiovascular system, damage the gastrointestinal tract, and often cause us to make poor nutritional and health decisions. Following an exercise program will help you to recover from that damage, which will put your body on the right track to staying clean and sober.
Tips to Make Exercise Part of Your Recovery
There are two major pitfalls to starting a new exercise program, taking it too fast and setting long-range goals.
Taking it Slow – If you’re not accustomed to exercise, don’t think that you can get up and go to the gym for four hours and be okay afterward. It’s important to pace yourself, start out slow, and increase what you’re doing bit by bit each day. This will also help with motivation, because if you aren’t in pain from overdoing it the day before, you’ll have more to look forward to.
Setting the Right Goals – If you set a block goal, you’re going to fail. For example, “Go to the gym every single day”. If you fail once, you’ve failed completely. But, you can set shorter goals, which you can achieve. Studies show that the most effective goals include short-term milestones in combination with a long-term goal. So, if you were going to the gym, you could start out by saying you want to exercise for four hours in your first week, with an end goal of exercising consistently throughout the whole year or a goal of losing/gaining an achievable amount of weight. You can also set weightlifting goals, running goals, or other milestones, which will help you to stay motivated and inspired as you meet and pass them.
It’s also important to try to do something fun. If running isn’t your thing, there’s no sense in forcing yourself to get up and do something you hate every morning when there are thousands of exercises you can try and maybe enjoy. Try dancing, or yoga, or parkour, or kickboxing, or any of a dozen other exercises. If you’re in a big city, chances are there are hundreds of specialized options you can look for and join. If you’re in a less urban area, you will have fewer choices, but you might be surprised at how much is out there.
Exercise can be an extremely valuable addition to your recovery, and it will help you to improve your health, reduce cravings, and improve your happiness.
Good luck with your New Year’s exercise program.
Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available now.