How Exercise Contributes to Long-Term Substance Abuse Recovery

Long-term recovery relies on replacing old habits with new, healthier habits. Exercise plays a vital role in recovery because it reduces stress, strengthens the body, and releases endorphins.

Those who exercise regularly after completing treatment are more likely to experience long-term substance abuse recovery.

Here are a few specific ways to use exercise in recovery and heal the body, mind, and soul.

Exercise in Sobriety

Physical Effects of Exercise in Recovery

The use of drugs harms the body and weakens the immune system in many ways – which in turn causes a higher dependence on the drugs. Exercise has the opposite effect on the physical body. It strengthens the body and lessens a body’s need and want for outside assistance.

Aids in Sleep

A lack of sleep may result from using drugs, or an outside sleeping condition may have necessitated the use of drugs. However, exercise is a healthier way to combat either reason for sleep deprivation. Those who exercise regularly find that they can fall asleep faster and sleep deeper without outside stimulants.

Increases Energy

Recovery is a draining process that requires a great deal of strength and motivation. Relapses may occur when people seek outside stimulants for an energy and mood boost. Instead, a person should try regular exercise to generate energy.

Exercises produce mitochondria inside the muscles, which gives a person more stamina and strength. Regularly working out also increases the flow of oxygen around the body, which is another natural stimulant.

Aids in Overall Health

When a person exercises, their body maintains a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, and a stronger heart. In return, active people find themselves getting sick less often and feeling an overall sense of well-being.

In recovery, exercise also helps offset any damage done by drugs by rebuilding the body’s muscles, bones, and nerves healthily.

Mental Effects of Exercise in Sobriety

Mental health is just as important as physical health for long-term recovery. For example, exercise combats common cognitive distortions that lead to relapse. In addition, through regular activities, a person replaces negative emotions and thoughts with endorphins and positive thinking.

Boosts a Person’s Mood

Endorphins give a person a natural “high.” They reduce feelings of pain and anxiety. This effect leads to a more optimistic feeling after a workout. The increase of oxygen to the brain also sharpens a person’s cognitive ability to see the world clearer, leading to fewer distorted ideas of themselves and their lives. With the heightened ability to think without inhibitors, a person can also develop solutions to problems other than escaping through a relapse.

Provides a Distraction

Exercise is a way to distract a person from cravings and triggers that may potentially cause a relapse. Instead, a person engaging in activities that increase their oxygen flow feels stronger, more energetic, and focused on other tasks. One study showed that those who attended 12 exercise sessions had better outcomes in their recovery than those who did not exercise regularly in recovery.

Lessens Stress

Anxiety, depression, and stress are three significant factors that lead to relapse. Exercise boosts a person’s mood to combat depression and provides a distraction from anxiety. In addition, it lessens stress. With regular exercise, a person releases endorphins to feel better about a situation. They also achieve the needed cognitive sharpness to address stressful situations without feeling overwhelmed. With these two aids, a person can overcome stress in their lives in ways other than substance use.

Offers Social Opportunities

A social group is essential for resisting relapse and leads towards long-term recovery. A strong community combats isolation and loneliness. Instead, a person has others to speak to when they need support and connection. Plugging in with a sports team, gym class, or walking group allows creating meaningful relationships and receiving necessary social interactions that build the foundation for long-term recovery.

5 Effective Ways to Exercise in Substance Abuse Recovery

Aerobic exercise is the most effective form of exercise for supporting long-term recovery. Aerobic exercise is also known as cardio and promotes heart and lung health by increasing the oxygen flow around a person’s body.

On the other hand, anaerobic exercise focuses on rebuilding muscle and burning fat. While this exercise helps with a person’s overall well-being and recovery from the effects of drug use, scientists have not shown a direct relation between anaerobic exercise and long-term recovery.

Here are five practical exercises that aid in substance abuse recovery.

1. Swimming

Swimming achieves the aerobic results of exercise without the physical stress and impact of other activities. If a person is new to exercise, swimming is an easy place to start. Water surrounds the body and eases any sore joints or weak muscles that a person hasn’t rebuilt after addiction. Also, the action of swimming builds new muscle and releases endorphins throughout the body.

2. Walking and Running

Walking and running are both convenient forms of aerobic exercise because they don’t require any equipment – which is why walking is the most popular type of aerobic exercise. A person can walk around their neighborhood, in a park, or even in their own homes using a treadmill.

3. Yoga

Yoga is not an aerobic exercise but deserves mention in the top five methods of recovery exercise. It focuses on breathing and strength – both essential in recovery. The breathing exercises in yoga reduce levels of stress, while strength-building boosts the body’s overall health.

4. Team Sports

As previously mentioned, social engagement is crucial for long-term recovery. Many team sports act as a support group along with being aerobic exercise. Some popular team sports are:

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Volleyball

5. Dancing

For those who aren’t into exercise, dancing is a good alternative. It is a full-body aerobic workout through fun moves, music, and social interactions. An active dance routine burns just as many calories as jogging. In addition, dance classes are available for teaching techniques, keeping the dancers moving, and offering a chance for social connections.

Finding the Best Exercise Routine

Exercising on its own is just one step in the journey to recovery. Before jumping into a new exercise, a person should consult their doctor to ensure they aren’t pushing their body beyond its limit.

Join the long-term recovery community at Ethos to receive additional resources and support.