It seems almost an oxymoron to expect someone going from abusing their bodies with substances to healthy eating and a daily fitness routine. But it is actually a very physical representation of all of the internal changes people make in recovery. Everyone knows now that physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle. But why is physical activity important in recovery?
Physical Activity Promotes Healing
The impact of substance abuse on the physical body can be devastating. There are consequences that can be fatal, including overdose, liver failure, heart attack, and stroke. Less severe side effects include a lowered immune system, blood pressure, lung disease, seizures, and more. Some of these medical issues cannot be reversed. However many can be improved or healed with proper diet and exercise.
There are some very specific benefits to health when physically active in sobriety. Exercise can stimulate the immune system and lower the risks of some cancers. Exercising consistently can also improve symptoms of diabetes. Consistent exercise promotes cardiovascular health, possibly counteracting the side effects of the substance abuse itself. It is almost literally the antidote to the damage substance use causes the body.
Physical Activity Promotes Mental Health
Physical activity supports mental health. Feeling good physically impacts feeling good mentally. One of the obvious reasons that exercise helps us feel better mentally is because of the endorphins released as the body moves. Similar to the reward that substances give at the beginning of substance use, there is a natural high when a person engages in physical activity.
On top of the endorphin effect, exercise can induce generally positive, relaxed states due to other chemicals in the brain. For those who abuse substances, they may have only known this state of relaxation in connection to substance abuse. That exercise can produce similar chemical reactions in the brain without all of the side effects that encourage people to be physically active. This creates a positive cycle of reward in both the body and the brain.
Other very specific benefits of physical activity for those in sobriety include:
• Decreased Cravings – Due to the chemicals released during exercise, the part of the brain which generates cravings becomes less active. This means fewer substance cravings and more natural highs.
• Stress Management – Exercise is a great outlet for stress. With so many emotions that come up in sobriety, regular physical activity helps provide a safe and healthy release for them and can also give time to mentally process stress and emotions during the workout.
• Depression and Anxiety Prevention – Substance use can cause greater instances of both depression and anxiety. The cessation of substances alone does not guarantee that these issues will go away. However, exercise can reduce instances of depression and anxiety. Many studies have linked much lower depression and anxiety rates with those who exercise while in sobriety. Because of the effect that exercise has on the brain, consistent exercise balances the chemicals which cause depression and anxiety. This results in greater emotional stability and increased mental health.
• Improved Sleep – Sleep disturbances occur both during substance abuse and within the withdrawal stages of sobriety. Because of the physical rigors of exercise as well as the chemical changes in the brain, sleep is often improved in both quality and quantity with regular exercise.
Physical Activity is a Positive Use of Our Time
In order to replace the former activities engaged in during substance abuse, new activities are needed to help people to stay busy and productive. This is also known as “keeping out of trouble.” Replacing old habits with new, better habits is also positive for self-esteem. Exercise is the perfect replacement of prior activities. A fitness routine can also provide consistency and daily structure and also give purpose and meaning.
Physical Activity Fosters Positive Relationships
Exercise is not limited to a personal gym workout or running alone every day. Part of physical movement can include team sports and other group activities. A person could find one or more walking or running buddies or a gym partner or take a Zumba class with friends. Exercising with others is a double blessing, as the positives of working out are coupled with time with friends. As an added bonus, it is always more fun to work out with others.
Why is physical activity important in recovery? For all of the above reasons and more. Exercise is so much more than getting those rock-hard abs or fitting into that new outfit or reaching the perfect BMI. Fitness is part of the healing process, something that impacts mental health as much as it impacts physical health. It is a part of new daily routines of health and wellness, a part of a new lifestyle. It is also a safeguard against relapse and a positive way to spend time. Exercise is as important to recovery as any other aspect, and it promotes wellness in both body and mind.
At AToN, physical fitness is a key part of discovering a new way of life. Our facilities include onsite gyms and personal trainers, spin bikes, pools, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, and more. Learning to move is every bit as important as learning to be sober. Come stay with us to begin your new journey of recovery. Your health is in good hands.
Make a commitment to your mental and physical health today. Call AToN Center at (888) 813-5928 and discover a whole new level of health and well-being.