Physical activity is an essential part of any healthy living plan, but exercise holds distinct benefits for people recovering from substance abuse. In some cases, physical activity is necessary to rehabilitate the body after severe drug abuse, but the benefits are clear and measurable for any patient. Getting off your ass is one of the best things you can do for yourself in recovery.
Exercise For A Healthier Future
Substance abuse takes a tremendous toll in the body and mind, and repairing that damage is a long and complex process. Physical activity improves the health of the body, which in turn improves the health of the mind. Learning new ways to exercise and stay fit can also provide the foundation for building better habits in recovery. Exposure to past triggers, stressors, and bad influences are the leading causes of relapse. Physical activity can not only provide a constructive outlet for handling cravings, but also limit the risk of exposure to potentially dangerous elements of one’s environment.
Exercise And Physical Therapy In Rehab
Many drug-addiction recovery centers offer a range of physical therapies and holistic treatments that offer relief from the physical effects of addiction, such as yoga, massage, and acupuncture. Exercise therapy is another way to combat the symptoms of withdrawal and empower a person throughout the recovery experience. Some addiction treatment programs include regular workouts to help their patients recover more fully, and these experiences can also influence life after rehab.
Exercise influences behavior in that it causes dopamine release*. Dopamine is the brain’s naturally occurring “reward” neurotransmitter that causes pleasurable feelings after meeting a need or performing a satisfying action. People inherently seek out behaviors that trigger dopamine releases.
Dopamine release is a major factor in addiction because using illicit drugs or alcohol can trigger a dopamine release, but the person will require more and more of the drug to achieve the desired effects over time. This dependency creates a pattern of addictive behavior that ultimately leads to full-blown addiction. If a person in recovery starts experiencing a craving to relapse, he or she may be able to offset this by exercising and triggering a natural dopamine release that satisfies the craving.
Exercise is a healthier alternative because it not only fosters a more natural and healthy dopamine cycle in the brain, but also requires the person to work for it. Achieving goals and building a structured life is a major facet of sober living after rehab. Exercise and physical activity should play a role in any person’s life after completing rehab, and there are countless possible ways to work physical activity into a regular routine.
Physical Activity After Rehab
The average person will likely experience several types of physical therapies and exercise-based treatments during rehab. Some people may find value in running or walking, while others discover they enjoy lifting weights or playing team-based sports. Carrying these experiences into life after rehab can be beneficial in more ways than just improved physical health.
A few ways a person fresh out of rehab can incorporate physical activity into everyday life in recovery include:
- Exploring activities learned in rehab to a deeper level. For example, if you enjoyed yoga sessions in rehab, consider joining a weekly yoga class.
- Learning a new skill. If you have ever considered learning a new skill such as a martial art, archery, or rock climbing, making time to enjoy these activities on a weekly basis provides structure, goals, and a sense of achievement, along with physical benefits.
- Daily exercise. Some people may not be physically able to go to the gym every day or run for miles on end, but there are many ways to incorporate exercise into a daily routine. Walking or jogging for as little as 20 or 30 minutes a day can help a person feel balanced for work and other obligations throughout the day.
- Team sports. Joining a local team or sports club can offer structure and group support in recovery. You’ll get regular physical exercise, while also achieving goals and participating in healthy competition.
Building Better Habits While Living Sober
Nutrition and diet play major roles in the rehab process, but they are also important considerations for life after rehab. Fast foods, processed foods, and sugary foods can all cause physiological changes that can trigger an addiction relapse. For example, many addiction recovery programs recommend avoiding caffeine and all refined sugars because these substances can have habit-forming qualities and cause a “crash” that triggers withdrawal symptoms in a person recovering from substance abuse.
Healthy foods are more accessible than many people think. Shopping, buying, and preparing fresh foods may seem like more work, but this is ultimately a good thing for a person who just finished rehab. Prior to recovery, he or she may have simply eaten fast food or only eaten when absolutely necessary while in the grips of a severe drug addiction. Creating a new routine of procuring healthy foods and eating better in general offers much-needed structure in recovery. Building a physical activity routine around a better diet offers even more opportunities to make healthier choices and stay on track with sobriety.
It is not realistic to expect to return to your life exactly how it was before rehab and avoid a relapse. Stress can easily trigger an alcohol relapse. Visiting familiar friends and places may tempt a drug relapse. There are countless possible variables in your old environment that could trigger a relapse, and it’s essential to remove dangerous influences from your life and develop a new routine that encourages sobriety.
Learning Healthy New Coping Strategies
A major part of relapse prevention is stress management, and everyone has different coping strategies to manage periods of acute stress. In recovery, these stressors are even more dangerous than usual. Rehab can teach a person new coping methods, but it is ultimately up to him or her to put them into practice. This is much easier with a healthy body. Fatigue, blood pressure changes, sleep problems, and many other factors can cause cravings to relapse. These issues are far less frequent when you make exercise and physical activity a part of your regular routine.
If you are concerned about the expense of joining a gym or fitness club, there are many low-cost options for physical activity. Look for a safe running route near your home or develop a callisthenic routine you can do each morning. Eventually, you will find new opportunities to enjoy regular physical activity.
Join The Conversation With Fight Addiction Now
Fight Addiction Now is a wide network of other people struggling with addiction, people living sober for months or years, substance abuse treatment professionals, advocates, and loved ones of people who have struggled with addiction. We invite our readers to take part in conversations about relapse prevention and share their stories and advice with others.
Preventing Relapses With Community Support
The Fight Addiction Now community can offer advice for adding workouts to your daily or weekly routine and provide support and encouragement after rehab. Returning to “the real world” after rehab is incredibly stressful without support, and some people may not have anyone nearby to depend on when cravings strike or relapse triggers appear. Some people may relocate after rehab to avoid bad environments and bad influences.
The Fight Addiction Now community offers support to anyone who needs it regardless of where they live. Visit us online to learn more about relapse prevention after rehab and think of ways you can join the conversation.