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How Exercise can help in Addiction Recovery

Addiction Rehab and Physical Fitness

Every person can gain physical and mental benefits from exercise, no matter where they are in life or what their capability. Each person will also find they thrive from different types of exercise and different amounts. Something as simple as getting 20-30 minutes of movement, like an easy walk around your neighborhood, will be incredibly effective in improving your overall health. Exercise is also a wonderful way to clear one’s mind and reduce stress. While it is of course not a guarantee, normal physical activity is a fundamental way to increase overall happiness. A clearer and happier mindset are essential tools in fighting addiction and maintaining sobriety.

The Relationship Between Physical and Mental Health

According to a report by Mark Smith and Wendy Lynch, published in the US National Library of Medicine, there is a considerable amount of literature which demonstrates that exercise helps decrease depression and anxiety in humans, with both being factors for substance abuse.* Exercise improves your physical health in many different ways: you gain muscle strength and definition, lower blood pressure, less stress, and better sleep among many other benefits. When you improve your health in all of the aforementioned ways, you are able to gain self confidence and feel better mentally.

From the many benefits of physical activity, the importance of improved sleep cannot be stressed enough. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Sleep problems may increase risk for developing particular mental illnesses…” and that “Regular aerobic [exercise that stimulate and strengthen the lungs and heart] helps people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.” When you exercise regularly and follow a routine, you will find that you sleep better which in turn will improve your mental health.*

Camaraderie and Fitness

When following a fitness routine with others, you will find that you are more encouraged to stick to that routine and will develop close relationships with people that can provide support in your journey. There are many types of team sports that are fantastic forms of exercise and can be a significant way to build vital relationships. This can include: rugby, soccer, basketball, tennis, and group Crossfit among many other options. A study done by the government of Australia reported that, “Participants in sport and recreation report…improved self-esteem, self-confidence, community identity and greater community cohesion…” as well as “Reductions in anti-social behavior, crime and social isolation have also been reported.” As you participate in group activity over time, you will learn various skills and gain confidence in many parts of your life, which will be an essential part of continued sobriety. *

Embrace the challenges that you will face and look to your community for the support you need.

Social Benefits

Participation in team sports and group exercise is clearly a meaningful way to fight against loneliness and inactivity. It allows you to connect with others in a way that provides a challenge, encourages teamwork and communication, and everyone in the group can learn to increase trust in each other.

While it is not a bad thing to be alone, as that can be needed at times, it is important to make sure you are not completely isolated far too often. Physical activity and community action separately boost your mental health and together they both provide an incredible source of support in your recovery.

Friendship is a wonderful way to help maintain sobriety. Friends help hold each other accountable, challenge each other, and help each other enjoy life. Aristotle said of friendship, “And friendship is a help to the young, in saving them from error, just as it is also to the old…for ‘two going together’ are better able to think and act.” Group sports and exercise are some of the avenues that you can pursue to gain new friendships and deepen them over time.

Fitness and Addiction Recovery

From all of the benefits mentioned above, the important takeaway is that they will all be a part of your continued sobriety and success in recovery. Exercise is beneficial to physical and mental health, and those in turn are essential to fighting addiction. The goal is to create a positive routine where you are developing habits and skills that are going to be a part of your continued progress. Exercise on its own is not a guarantee one will never develop addiction or that one will never face relapse, but it is a powerful component in the many different parts of recovery.

Each person in recovery will be at a different starting point as far as what they are capable of doing physically. It is important to keep in mind that physical activity and skill is also a journey that will take time and effort. As you go along though, you will find yourself accomplishing more and setting new goals, developing confidence, and establishing significant relationships. Embrace the challenges that you will face and look to your community for the support you need.

Exercise as Treatment for Drug Abuse – NIH
Sleep and Mental Health – Harvard Medical School
Physical Activity and Building Stronger Communities – PCAL