Fitness – Both Mentally and Physically – are the Key to Recovery Addiction
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By Guest Author – Susan Treadway
Battling addiction is a daily process. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the power of addiction to drugs and/or alcohol will hesitate to use words like “beat” and “move past” when it comes to staying clean and sober. Addictions are behaviors that, if we do not find activities to replace them on a daily basis, can re-inject themselves into our lives. That said, physical activity is essential to winning the daily battle against addiction because they help us fortify our mental health as well.
Why Exercise and Recovery are So Closely Tied
As Harvard Health explains, the word addiction comes from a Latin term that translates to “enslaved by” or “bound to”. As they also explain, the brain processes pleasure the same way, whether that pleasure comes from the use of drugs and alcohol, romance, or exercise.
Love and many activities that bring us pleasure can be very difficult to locate, while exercise – in its many forms – is something we can do daily. The New York Times details a study conducted with mice that showed the benefits of exercise in staving off addiction and serving as an aid once somebody has already succumbed to addictive behaviors. The study posits that exercise helps us learn more easily, and to stop associating drugs and/or alcohol with certain environments, a crucial part of maintaining an all-around healthy routine.
When it comes to staying clean and sober, any exercise is good exercise. But, as many have found, running – especially in new environments – can be addictive in its own, healthier way.
Musician Eminem, who spoke to Men’s Journal about his own recovery from a pill addiction, explained how running “gave [him] a natural endorphin high”, also helping him to expend the energy necessary to sleep well. He is far from alone in his personal story of aiding recovery through running.
The physical benefits of running – as per The Better Health Channel – are a bit more obvious: improved cardiovascular health, leaner muscles, stronger bones, etc. But it is the mental health benefits of running that may be even more important for those seeking to aid their recovery from addiction. Remember, the pleasure centers in the brain are all processed the same, and we need to find a way to replace the unhealthy forms of mental ‘pleasure’ derived from addiction. This is why the mental health perks that arise from exercise – and especially running – are so important.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Candice Rasa explains many of these mental benefits that running imparts, especially as it pertains to addiction recovery. Running has been shown to reduce the symptoms of everyday depression, raise self-esteem, increase hope, diminish cravings for unhealthy foods and unhealthy behaviors, a la addiction. Mental and physical health truly are inextricably linked, and the accessibility of running – all you need is a sidewalk, and sometimes not even that – make it the perfect form of exercise for those in recovery.
Make running a part of your healthy routine, which should also include a healthy diet, hobbies including reading, and other forms of alternative coping methods that help facilitate mental and physical health.
One form of physical activity that is easier on the joints is swimming. This activity has been shown in a PsycNet study to reduce feelings of anxiety, regardless of intensity or duration of the swim. For those who find running to be too much of a strain on their body or simply distasteful, consider swimming, which carries similar mental and physical benefits to running.
Some Alternative Coping Methods
It seems like yoga and meditation are crazes that millennials have picked up at a greater clip than prior generations. They’re actually onto something, especially if you are looking for activities to aid you in your sobriety. Activities that relieve stress and anxiety, whether they come in the form of exercise or alternative coping methods, will decrease the risk of relapse.
Psychology Today’s Adi Jaffe explains that mindfulness – the concept of staying in the current moment – and its application in meditative practices can be hugely beneficial for recovery. Yoga and meditation have similar mental health benefits, with one study showing that those who did yoga consistently were more likely to experience mental health boosts than those who did not. While yoga and meditation alone may not constitute enough physical exertion for you to replace your addictive habits, add them to your all-around routine as you try to re-orient your life as a healthier one.
When it comes to the daily fight against addiction – a battle we call recovery – we must use all the resources that we have. Physical exercise helps us reap benefits that fortify not only our physical state, but our mental health as well, which may be even more important in avoiding relapse. Running has been a proven form of exercise for many, but those in recovery should also consider alternative methods of exercise – not to mention yoga and meditation – to help form an overall healthier, cleaner lifestyle.
Susan Treadway is an addict in recovery. She uses a holistic approach to sobriety to stay on a successful path and believes adopting even a few holistic methods can help anyone struggling with addiction.
She hopes her website, rehabholistics.com, will inspire anyone who has struggled with addiction to incorporate holistic practices into their own self-care routine.