Exercise in Recovery

Exercise In Recovery

What if I told you there was a healthy and inexpensive way to heal the body and mind from the ravages of addiction? What if that same approach would help you to stay addiction-free and sober over the long term? The great news is that such a thing exists! What we are talking about here is exercise and physical activity. Those words can be scary for some people, but it is important to keep in mind that we are not speaking about creating an Olympian or a gym rat. We are simply suggesting increasing a person’s amount of physical activity to a safe, fun, and healthy level.

Why Exercise?

There are a number of physiological and psychological benefits to exercise. For the average person, these benefits can have a wonderful impact on the mind and body, but for the recovering addict, they are a critical piece to the recovery puzzle. A regular fitness program in addiction recovery can help to repair the brain, grow new brain cells, and help to prevent relapse. When a person exercises, it helps to put the brain in homeostasis, grow neurons, and create new pathways in the brain. Moderate intensity exercise has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin levels as well as release endorphins. These are the same chemicals that have been altered by drug and alcohol abuse.

New People, Places, and Things

One of the most important aspects for an individual that is starting down the road to recovery is developing new healthy habits, starting new relationships, and finding new ways to spend their time. Incorporating an exercise program into their lives can help to do all of this. Team sports, exercise classes, or working out with a partner is a wonderful way to reintegrate socially and to develop constructive interactions. The more fun a person is having and the more connected they are feeling to their new lifestyle, the less likely they are to miss the old drinking and drugging acquaintances and hangouts.

Coping Skills

For individuals that are recovering from addiction, it is important to find a way to cope with stress, anxiety, anger, agitation, and depression. Drugs, alcohol, and food were the only way that most of us knew how to deal with any feelings; so cultivating a new outlet is key to sustained recovery. Exercise can be the “safety valve” to vent these emotions by separating a person from what is antagonizing them and giving them time to think rather than act impulsively. Being physically active can help to build mental strength, self-confidence, and discipline.

Where To Start

The great news is that you do not need to spend a fortune on equipment or any fancy gadgets to get started. You could begin today just by walking out your front door. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is not about the amount or intensity of the exercise regime. To start, it is more about getting in the habit of being active. Every person will have a different starting point and it is important to identify yours. If a five-minute walk at a slower pace is your maximum to begin, that is great! You can start with that and build from there.
Most of us did not come into recovery on a winning streak. By incorporating an exercise program, you can change that and start to build momentum in a positive direction. Get outside, get some fresh air, have some fun, and start moving around!
Learn more about the importance of exercise in addiction recovery HERE

David became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2013 and founded Nutrition in Recovery, a group practice of RDNs specializing in the treatment of eating and substance use disorders. In 2017, David received the “Excellence in Practice” award at the national Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics awarded him the “Emerging Dietetic Leader Award” in 2020. He earned his PhD from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health in the Community Health Sciences department (with a minor in Health Psychology) by investigating the links between adverse childhood experiences and various mental health outcomes among socially disadvantaged men. His treatment philosophy is based on a biopsychosocial model which incorporates an understanding of biological mechanisms, psychological underpinnings, and contextual factors that integrate the social determinants of health. His website Wise Mind Nutrition offers a fully online interactive treatment program that will be available in the Summer of 2022.

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