The benefits of exercise on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are well known. Whether you are reading a peer-reviewed journal article or looking at your Facebook feed, it quickly becomes clear how beneficial exercise is for everyone. Some people wonder what, if any, connection exists between exercise and addiction recovery. After all, it is easy to question how taking a walk, lifting weights, or even playing tennis has anything to do with achieving and maintaining sobriety.
As your body begins to adjust to a life without alcohol or drugs, it undergoes numerous (sometimes unpleasant) changes. While positive in the long term, these changes often seem unbearable and miserable in the days after beginning addiction treatment at The Hills in Los Angeles, California.
Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery
Detox and withdrawal bring about increased stress, reduced energy, changes to sleeping patterns, and depressed or anxious mood. While these symptoms may begin in detox, they can last well into treatment and recovery. This is where exercise becomes beneficial. Recovering addicts who engage in regular physical activity can benefit from stress reduction, improved sleep, increased energy, improved mood, and an overall improvement in their mental and physical health.
It is not uncommon for people to turn to a glass of wine or beer after work to wind down after a long day. Unfortunately for many, there comes a time when the occasional drink that used to provide stress relief crosses the line to dependence on substances to manage all forms of stress. In time, increasing levels of substances are needed and consumed in an attempt to feel relief from the stressors of day-to-day life. However, stress relief often becomes allusive and, eventually, disappears entirely. Sometimes, substance use becomes a direct cause of increased stress and anxiety.
What happens to this cycle when you decide it is time to seek addiction treatment at an addiction treatment facility like The Hills in Los Angeles? Does all of the stress related to addiction subside as treatment progresses? While the answer is “not immediately,” exercise does help. Stressful emotions are something you must learn to manage for long-term sobriety to be possible. Stress reduction can be achieved through almost any physical activity that increases your heart rate. Regular physical activity is known to alleviate stress in the short and long-term. During exercise, the brain releases serotonin and dopamine, which are known to combat stress. Therefore, developing a healthy routine consisting of regular physical activity that can be utilized when stressful emotions related to work, family or life occur can go a long way in helping you return to a place of balance.
Issues pertaining to disrupted sleep are common, especially during early recovery. Regardless of your drug of choice, whether it be a stimulant (such as cocaine) or a depressant (like alcohol), withdrawing from substances of all kinds can significantly impact your sleep. Difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or wanting to sleep during the day can result, leaving you feeling tired and devoid of energy. While some over the counter products may be helpful, a natural remedy like exercise is significantly more beneficial, and developing a “healthy habit” is encouraged! Regular exercise improves sleep by increasing the number of hours you sleep each night and the quality of those hours. It can also help to reduce the urge you feel to nap during the day. As your sleep improves, so does how you feel during the hours you are awake. You are more likely to feel more alert and able to manage the demands of your day.
Increased Energy Levels
Although it may sound counterintuitive, exercising (while it requires energy) can help improve your energy levels long-term. During exercise, your heart pumps blood more aggressively, and oxygen levels within the body increase. With regular exercise, the boost in oxygen levels serves to improve overall energy levels. Also, as your cardiovascular and physical health improve, your daily activities become more comfortable to perform. Tasks are completed quicker as they require less energy to accomplish.
It is for this reason that many people choose to exercise in the morning before going about their day. The energy you expend during morning exercise returns as fuel for the remainder of your daily tasks and obligations. Many in early recovery often forget how demanding life can be without having substances to turn to. Therefore, incorporating exercise early in your treatment program and making it a healthy habit can help immensely when you are newly clean and sober.
While detoxing from drugs and alcohol, mood changes frequently occur. Even after the early stages of detox or complete, your mood can still fluctuate from day to day. This is especially true during the early stages of recovery. One minute you may feel like you’re on top of the world, and the next minute you may feel disheartened, lost, confused, or even angry. Again, this is the process of the body adjusting to life without alcohol or drugs in these feelings, and consistent with the changes are expected.
When you exercise, endorphins are one of the chemicals released in the body. Endorphins are responsible for producing feelings such as happiness and euphoria, both of which are the same feelings that both initiated and perpetuated continued substance abuse. As a stress-reduction technique, regular exercise can improve your mood in both the short and longer terms. The best part is that the length of time you engage in physical activity does not need to be excessive. Health and nutrition experts indicate that 30 minutes of exercise per day is enough to see changes in your mood, along with other physical and emotional benefits.
It is essential to receive professional addiction treatment at an addiction treatment center like The Hills, where the staff understands the importance of exercise and recovery. The early days of detox and withdrawal can be scary. You are experiencing increased stress, a decrease in energy, reduced sleep, and a host of other emotions that you were likely unfamiliar with. A qualified medical professional familiar with detox and withdrawal can help you pinpoint the source of these emotions and find new, healthy coping strategies to help better manage them. Also, choosing a treatment center that promotes exercise as a coping skill will help serve as a foundation for continued recovery because exercise can provide a healthy coping strategy to use long after treatment ends.
Exercise Helps Your Immune System
When you struggle with substance abuse or addiction, it is common to experience several side effects from chronically ingesting substances. Long term drug or alcohol addictions can lead to considerable damage in many body systems, especially the immune system. The immune system may be harmed directly by intoxicating substances or indirectly impacted by how the drug is ingested. Alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, nicotine, and opioids all affect the immune system to varying degrees. For example, alcohol decreases liver and pancreas function, which can lead to reduced immunity. Long term cocaine use damages the mucous membranes in the nose, throat, and lungs, which can lead to chronic susceptibility to upper respiratory infections and lung infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Marijuana affects several kinds of cells in the body, which can ultimately impact the immune system and reduce the body’s ability to fight off infections from viruses, bacteria, and other foreign organisms. Morphine and other related opioids have been found to directly impact the white blood cell count, which reduces the immune system’s ability to react to diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise helps protect against many elements, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and some cancers. When using exercise as a healthy coping mechanism instead of turning to alcohol or drugs, the physical benefits can help mitigate and reduce the physical consequences of long-term substance use.
Reduces Drug Seeking Behavior
Engaging in regular exercise can help reduce the drive to smoke and often reduces drug-seeking behaviors. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a treatment program combining cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT and exercise can help people reduce some addictive behaviors. Many studies referenced on the NIDAs website reference how exercise can assist with smoking cessation; however, a significant body of research is underway regarding the efficacy of exercise and other addiction treatment successes. Research by the same organization also points out that teens and young adults who exercise regularly are less likely to smoke cigarettes or vape and are even less likely to abuse marijuana and other drugs than their less active peers.
Exercise can be a very effective tool during the early recovery process and throughout long term maintenance and sobriety. Whether it’s yoga, team sports, running, or aerobics, regular exercise can help to increase the chances of continued recovery and improve your overall quality of life. Beginning a regular exercise routine during addiction treatment can be extremely beneficial as you leave treatment and start learning how to address triggering events and situations without using substances. Having a coping mechanism like exercise in place early on can help reinforce healthy and successful strategies, you can turn two when you are inevitably faced with a triggering situation.
At The Hills, our compassionate, highly trained addiction treatment team is here to provide education, support, and behavioral therapy in conjunction with alternative and holistic treatment models in our luxury Los Angeles location. We understand that all treatment centers are not created equally and strive to ensure our staff, medical team, and private setting provide a level of care that is a step above the rest. If you are ready to learn more about why addiction treatment at The Hills is different, contact us today.