When most Americans think about recovering from addiction or alcoholism, they probably think about addicts waiting around and just talking about their feelings. They might get the idea from TV shows and movies that recovery is some sort of passive process. The truth is that it can be an incredibly active process. Any rehab center worthy of the name will incorporate exercise into its program in order to help recovering addicts get truly recovered.
It will soon be May, and May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, so there is no better time to examine the role of exercise and physical activity in addiction recovery. Here are several ways that exercise can be a vital part of addiction recovery.
Putting Structure into a Life of Chaos
If there was one word to describe what a life of drug abuse is like, that word is chaos. When you are addicted to drugs, getting more of them and using them takes precedence over everything else in your life. You will skip going to work, ignore your family and forget to eat. Vital actions that you need to maintain your life and sanity will drop out as you focus more and more on getting high.
One of the ways that exercise can be so helpful in addiction recovery is by putting structure back into a life that has become chaotic. Going for a run every day or having a set workout schedule can help give a person a schedule and a sense of purpose. Having to go do that workout every day at the same time is a better use of your time than having to get high every few hours.
Giving you Something to Think about Other than Addiction
Another way that exercise helps is by giving you something to focus your attention on. Drug use can be painful, and withdrawing from drugs can be even more painful. Your body will punish you for trying to get off of drugs. You can feel everything from major cravings to excruciating, shooting pains.
By exercising, you can take your attention off of the pain and everything else you’re feeling. Exercise has a way of tiring out your body and your mind. You get to just think about making it through the next set or running to the top of the next hill. That becomes the only important thing in the world, and everything else fades away. Anyone that has ever been “in the zone” while exercising knows how that feels. For recovering addicts, this feeling can finally be a welcome distraction from the mental slavery of addiction.
Exercise Heals Both your Body and Your Mind
In addition to giving you structure and a way to focus your mind, there is the simple benefit of taking control of healing your body and mind. After years of drug abuse, your body will be damaged and your mind frazzled from the constant stress. Exercise gives you a way of starting to undo that physical damage and will help you calm your mind, as well.
The physical benefits come from building up muscle tissue and causing your body to grow new blood vessels throughout your body. You will also expand your lung capacity and your general endurance. These are all good ways to help the body repair. You will also feel your mind calming every time you work out again. This might be the first time a recovering addict has felt that way since he first started using drugs.
HealthFinder.gov: National Physical Fitness and Sports Month http://healthfinder.gov/NHO/MayToolkit.aspx
SmartRecovery.org: Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery http://blog.smartrecovery.org/2012/12/26/benefits-of-exercise-in-addiction-recovery/