Many of us are familiar with the tried-and-true methods of rehab, counseling, and AA meetings when overcoming a battle with addiction. But there may be a new technique on the horizon: exercise.
A good fitness routine can be instrumental in overcoming behavioral addictions, mental illnesses, and other factors related to mental and emotional wellbeing. Our physical and emotional health is much more connected than we often recognize. When your body is in good health, your brain benefits, leading to better mental health and management of emotions.
Below, you’ll learn all about the ways a proper fitness routine can help you or someone you love beat addiction.
1. Exercise Treats Mental Illness
Many people who struggle with addiction also have a mental illness, a few of the most common being depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Substance abuse is almost always tied to some form of mental illness or disorder, so treating the root issue of mental health is crucial in addressing addiction.
Exercise has been proven to positively impact mental wellbeing. According to this study, exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It also improves self-esteem and cognitive function, which lessens social withdrawal and isolation. Researchers have found that when people exercise, they get better sleep, experience less stress, show increased energy, and several other benefits.
All of the above factors can act as positive reinforcement for sobriety. When you look, feel, and act better, you’re more likely to feel motivated to pursue sobriety and health.
2. A Fitness Routine is a Distraction from Cravings
Recovering individuals have also found exercise to be a welcome distraction from cravings. Especially during the withdrawal period (which can last weeks or months depending on the substance and length of abuse), cravings can be intense. When the body is detoxing from a substance, it might go through severe anxiety, illness, changes in sleep patterns, and other disturbances in the mind and body.
Exercise can be a way out of those cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If you start to crave something, you can use your fitness routine as a healthy outlet. Fitness can relieve tension, release endorphins, and improve overall mood, even when the cravings are strongest.
3. Fitness Routines Add Structure
For a lot of people recovering from addiction, structure is much-needed. Routines can help to maintain steady rhythms so you know what’s coming next, and fewer variables will arise to cause stress or temptation to go back to the addiction. With a fitness routine, you’ll have something built into your day that adds value to your everyday life and overall health.
Having too much free time to sit and think can derail a person’s recovery path. Exercise, among other important factors like good meals and family time, can act as a way to restructure your days and build positive activities into your daily routine.
4. Exercise Replaces Old Habits
Evidence shows that exercise influences many of the same molecules and pathways in the brain that control the positive reinforcing effects of drugs. As you exercise, eventually your body will recognize the habits you’ve established and desire those rewards instead of substances. While your body once relied on the chemicals that substances provided, fitness can be a positive replacement.
5. Exercise Can Offer a Support System
Exercise can often be a community effort. There are many ways to connect with other people with exercise, such as:
- Group workouts
- Running marathons with other people
- Yoga classes, cycling classes, HITT classes
- Running or going to the gym with friends, peers from recovery groups, or family members
Community support is one of the biggest factors in beating addiction. Sobriety doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it takes a community of peers and loved ones to remind recovering individuals that they’re not alone, and they can build healthier patterns and support.
Finding a Fitness Routine to Beat Addiction
Your fitness routine can be uniquely yours. If you’re recovering from an addiction, try incorporating new ways to stay healthy and active to improve your physical and mental health.
You might take up running, swimming, cycling, or watch YouTube workouts from the comfort of your own home. The key is to push yourself to make healthier choices and pursue health in a new way. With proper nutrition and exercise, overcoming addiction is possible.
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