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Exercise and Addiction Recovery

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

exercise and addiction recovery

Being active is great for both physical health and mental health, which is why exercise and addiction recovery should go hand in hand.

As a busy mom, you turn to exercise for a number of reasons.

This can be anything from losing weight to gaining strength to simply improving your overall health and wellness.

But exercise can also be a powerful tool to combat addiction, including drug and alcohol abuse.

Physical activity, and specifically exercise, can be a great tool in the overall treatment program to overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

Here's how (and why) exercise and addiction recovery should go hand in hand.

Learn how to get and stay motivated by setting realistic fitness goals.

Exercise and Addiction Recovery

Exercise is really the best medicine out there.

The endorphins released during exercise improve anxiety and even help with pain relief.

The benefits of exercise not only include improved physical fitness, but also mental and emotional health.

While there are many ways to combat drug and alcohol addiction, exercise has numerous benefits as a top treatment.

Engaging in physical activity is cost-effective and everyone has access to it.

Plus, you can choose whatever form of exercise you prefer!

On top of that, you can exercise on your own time and wherever you feel most comfortable, whether that be at home, in a gym, or outdoors.

Working out also encourages us to engage in other healthy behaviors, such as maintaining a nutritious diet and getting sufficient sleep.

On the opposite end, alcohol and drug consumption is anything but a health-promoting behavior.

However, exercise can be a great way to combat addiction and work toward long-term recovery.

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How Does Exercise Help Combat Addiction?

While we know that exercise makes us feel great, there is actually evidence to support these claims that exercise can be used as an additional therapy together with specific treatment for alcohol and drug dependence.

Studies have found that individuals engaged in exercise have lower cravings for alcohol, higher abstinence rates, and a decrease in the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption.

Physical exercise can also provide important support in the treatment of drug abuse.

It seems that exercise may prevent drug and alcohol use through interactions with dopamine in the reward pathway.

The more you exercise, the more endorphins are released, giving you a sense of reward with every workout.

The Perfect Exercise Program to Fight Drug and Alcohol Abuse

When choosing a type of exercise to combat drug and alcohol addiction, it needs to be something that you enjoy.

Exercise comes in all forms, so pick something that you look forward to doing on a regular basis.

This can be a group exercise class at a gym, a yoga session in your living room, or even weight training.

Outdoor exercise is another great option to get your heart pumping and also be able to get lost in nature at the same time.

Some amazing outdoor activities that have been found to improve mental and psychological well being include:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Paddleboarding

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Mindful Exercise

Rhythmic movement and mindful exercise is another form of activity that can help stave off addiction and prevent relapses.

This is basically the combination of mediation with aerobic activities.

This synergistic combination of anxiety-reducing techniques works to give you a higher level of stress relief to improve your mental health.

Workouts with repetitive motions are considered rhythmic exercises.

This includes things like running, walking, swimming, and even dancing.

While simply engaging in rhythmic exercise will help you relieve stress, if you add a mindfulness component on top, you’ll find even more of a stress relief benefit.

So choose any type of exercise you like, but instead of listening to music or watching TV while running on a treadmill, actively engage in how your body feels during the workout.

Turn off your thoughts and worries and pay attention to your breathing and how your muscles feel as they contract throughout the exercise.

For example, if you go out for a run, leave the headphones at home.

Instead, focus on the rhythm of your breathing as you move.

Pay attention to how your feet strike the ground and your arms brush by your sides.

Notice how the wind and sun feel across your face.

If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement.

Meditation: Exercise Your Mind to Help with Substance Abuse

Living a healthy lifestyle is not just about being physically fit, but also about your mental and emotional health.

Being able to manage your stress levels allows you to not only be healthier overall, but also to live a high quality of life and cope with issues such as addiction.

Drug and alcohol abuse is detrimental to our health in ways that affect one’s mind and body.

It is a complex issue, which is why it takes a multifaceted approach for treatment.

Meditation, or even just sitting in a quiet room for a few minutes, may help you deal with issues related to substance abuse.

Mindful meditation allows you to become more aware of yourself and your surroundings and really be present in the moment.

It can be extremely therapeutic to take just ten minutes for yourself to engage in meditation.

Exercise and meditation can improve the main symptoms of addiction, such as craving, impulsivity, negative mood, and increased stress.

Studies have found that behavioral training such as mindfulness meditation can increase the function of networks in the brain, including those leading to improved emotion regulation.

This makes mediation a great approach for the treatment of addiction.

Additional research has shown that individuals who participate in mindful meditation have decreased levels of stress and an overall improved outlook on life.

So this is definitely something to consider if you find yourself dealing with high levels of stress.

Find out how stress is killing us as we reveal some important research about stress.

How to Start a Meditation Program

There are a number of different styles of meditation. One of the easiest things to do is to start out with simple breathing techniques.

  • Find a quiet room where you can be comfortable and there are no distractions.
  • Sit still and begin to focus on your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale.
  • Take note of where you feel your breath and really stay in tune with your body.
  • Deeply inhale as you expand your chest and stomach, and then slowly exhale, really lengthening out the breath.
  • Try doing this for just five minutes to start and you will see how quickly this can calm your mind.

You can also find some great apps that you can download right to your phone. These programs include music, peaceful sounds, and cues to help you meditate and get in tune with your body.

Recent research shows that these apps have a positive impact on mental health.

A 2018 study found that mindfulness app users showed significant improvements in stress-related issues such as depressive symptoms, resilience, and mindfulness.

Plus, those who continued to use the apps frequently were more likely to maintain improvements in mental health.

Meditation is a great way to combat increased stress and improve your overall quality of life.

This simple technique can be done in the comfort of your own home and really only takes 10 minutes every day to free your mind and become more in tune with your body’s needs.

Alternate nostril breathing is an excellent practice to add to your morning deep breathing exercises.

Exercise as a Tool To Fight Addiction

We all know that being active is great for our physical health. However, exercise is also an amazing outlet for our mental health.

In order to improve your mental and emotional health, you need to choose exercises that you truly enjoy.

This will allow you to really immerse yourself in your workouts and decrease your stress levels.

If you are forcing yourself to complete workouts, this can actually backfire on your efforts to combat addiction.

Any and all types of exercise can be used as a tool to fight alcohol and drug abuse.

Plus, exercise has minimal side effects compared to pharmacological treatment.

With the use of proper precautions for injury prevention, exercise can be a much safer treatment modality compared to prescription medications.

You can exercise whenever and wherever is convenient for you.

On top of that, you can tailor your workouts so that you are motivated to continue exercising.

This means you are in control of how you feel about the health of your mind and body at all times.

Also, while many people don’t think of meditation as a true “exercise,” this is another great way to engage and connect your mind and body.

Drug and alcohol abuse are tough issues to deal with, especially while juggling a family and all of the other responsibilities thrown your way.

Exercise is just one way to help in the treatment of these conditions.

However, exercise and addiction recovery can be just what the doctor ordered in terms of not only combating substance abuse, but also preventing relapse and improving your overall quality of life.

Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on exercise and addiction recovery.

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