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Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Genesis Recovery believes that the path to complete recovery from addiction requires the whole body. Exercise not only helps physiologically, but it also assists psychologically as residents learn to feel good about being productive, accomplishing goals and experiencing the camaraderie of working in a team environment. Some physical activities we offer every resident include: hiking on a 160-acre property in the mountains of Ramona, CA, learning to surf at a surf camp, on-site gym, and weekly visits to a professional mma facility, Victory MMA & Fitness

Addiction can cause the neglect of daily health and subsequently, damage both emotional and physical well-being. Being active will nourish the mind and body, and will restore the mind-body connection throughout recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. During recovery, the resident has the opportunity to repair these physical and psychological damages. Exercise during recovery has been proven to have many benefits, and plays an integral part in efforts to maintain sobriety.

Exercise is known to reduce stress, encourage positive feelings like happiness and satisfaction, improve self-confidence, and enhance well-being. Furthermore, physical activity has been proven to play a role in relapse prevention. When an addict is recovering, their body and mind can crave the high they were used to experiencing. However, exercising can produce a similar sensation. Ussher, Sampuran, Doshi, West, and Drummond (2004) found that moderate-intensity exercise provided short-term relief from urges to drink alcohol. The high felt from exercising may be different and less intense than the high felt from drugs or alcohol; nevertheless exercise acts as a natural, pleasurable replacement and enhancement in recovery.

Exercise alters brain chemistry through several mechanisms, including mood enhancement and endorphin release. Its effects on the reward centers of the brain mimic those of highly addictive drugs like morphine. Dedication to physical activity will help the recovering addict become accustomed to the natural levels of endorphins in their system, and realize how enjoyable exercising isNot only can exercise in recovery decrease urges or cravings to consume, but it can also inspire the recovering addict to develop a positive addiction to exercise (Larimer and colleagues 1999). While exercising certainly regulates brain chemistry, it also elevates mood and leads to feelings of pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction. The Mayo Clinic describes exercise as “meditation in motion”; meaning that it provides an outlet to refocus thoughts, clear the mind, focus on your own well-being, and feel rejuvenated. All the mood-boosting and feel-good properties of exercise make it easy to develop a dedication to it.

Besides endorphin release, physical activity increases optimism and self-confidence, while reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. Like any new activity you learn; the more you do it, the better you get at it. As time passes, the resident can gradually add more time to or intensify their workout. Physical and mental health benefits will accompany this and the resident will see and feel themselves growing stronger and more competent; even in other areas of their life. These feelings of strength and confidence will extend into their ability to meet the challenges they will face in recovery. Exercise will foster feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self-worth as the resident reaches their goals. Having more confidence reinforces the idea that their goal of continued sobriety is attainable.

An additional benefit of exercising includes sleeping more soundly. Drug and alcohol addiction can disrupt body processes, including the body’s circadian rhythms which can cause difficulty falling or staying asleep without the drug of choice. However, as the body returns to a nourished, balanced state, exercise will help restore the normal sleep cycle. Being well-rested will help the body heal faster, and give the recovering addict more energy to enjoy their lives and achieve sobriety.

If the recovering addict has not exercised before or in a long time, consider having them start small such as going for a walk every day and seeing how it feels. It is also an opportunity for them to increase their social circle; for example, they can find someone with similar goals, or even someone a little more experienced. Having a workout buddy will help each other stay motivated, and push each other during workouts. Have them start slow and build their way up to find what workout is best for them. Remember there is no one path to recovery, and there is no one way to work out. Exercise plays an important role in recovery from addiction, as well as in staying healthy.

Acute effect of a brief bout of exercise on alcohol urges. Ussher M, Sampuran AK, Doshi R, West R, Drummond DC Addiction. 2004 Dec; 99(12):1542-7.

“Exercise in Addiction Recovery | Living Sober.” N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Review Relapse prevention. An overview of Marlatt’s cognitive-behavioral model. Larimer ME, Palmer RS, Marlatt GA Alcohol Res Health. 1999; 23(2):151-60https://

“4 Reasons to Exercise During Addiction Recovery.” Bradford Health. N.p., 13 Mar. 2014. Web.  14 Feb. 2017.

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