While exercise can help prevent relapse, there is a risk of overdoing it. Like anything else, too much exercise can be problematic and become compulsive. We caution patients to be aware of not replacing substance addiction with an exercise addiction.
How to Develop an Exercise Routine Safely
After receiving medical clearance, start slow and work your way into it. If exercise hasn’t been a part of your life before, it might be difficult, or you may be anxious to begin. Just remember to start slow and ease your way into a routine.
Some other tips for developing an exercise routine include:
- Consult your treatment team and physician on the best time to begin
- Select the activities you enjoy so that you’ll be more likely to continue after your leave treatment
- Make a schedule for yourself so you can become accountable and establish a routine
- If you find motivation difficult, select activities involving other sober people
- Take different workout classes at a gym or a yoga studio
Why Exercise Works – the Facts About Addiction Research and Exercise
In a 2011 National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) newsletter, Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director, noted that while most people recognize that exercise is good for the body, it also benefits the brain. She reported that exercise stimulates the brain reward pathway and heightens mood-boosting neurochemicals.
Dr. Richard Brown, Director of Addictions Research at Butler Hospital, and his colleagues recently conducted studies on exercise and alcohol abuse. They found that participants in their studies enjoyed exercise because they could feel their mood improving on a daily basis. Dr. Brown theorized that exercise helps increase levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, a chemical associated with the feelings of pleasure, is often diminished during the time a person is excessively abusing substances. Hence, exercise may be beneficial to build dopamine back to normal levels.
Exercise is also a proven and natural way to produce endorphins in the brain. Excessive substance abuse seems to seriously affect brain endogenous endorphin production. Dr. Gabor Mate, author of “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghost,” believes that natural opiates such as endorphins are the chemical linchpin of the brain’s emotional apparatus. Hence it makes sense that if a substance negatively affects this apparatus, increasing endogenous endorphins through exercise could improve recovery rates.
Changing Life Patterns for Long-Lasting Addiction Recovery
Exercise may benefit an individual attempting to overcome their dependency by creating a healthy distraction. When individuals are giving up something such as alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or even food, they often talk about being bored or even anxious. These feelings can trigger cravings. Exercise not only can help improve brain chemistry and assist with stress reduction, it can provide a physical distraction to help divert attention from these cravings. Increasing endorphins and/or dopamine through exercise may help reduce cravings brought on by neurochemical imbalances.
There are increasing reports that exercise can reduce substance use. Psychology professor Mark Smith and his colleagues have published several studies in peer-reviewed journals showing reduction in cocaine use, heroin use and even amphetamine use in laboratory rats who had access to an exercise wheel compared to their sedentary counterparts. The more active rats had limited to no interest in substance use. Researchers at Vanderbilt University have reported similar results from marijuana.
At Awakening, our data shows that the combination of formal treatment, exercise, healthy diet, community support, and other recovery-oriented activities greatly improves the chances of success for recovery. We believe in a holistic approach to recovery, working on your mind, body and spirit. Let us help you understand how exercise can be an essential part of that.