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How Exercise Helps in Addiction Recovery

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How Exercise Helps in Addiction Recovery

 Apart from getting in shape, studies show a regular exercise routine can help keep you sober.  Among the many things that drug addiction destroy are healthy habits and routines.  Once addiction becomes established in a person’s life, preoccupation with getting and using drugs eventually supersede everything else, including self-care like regular meals and exercise.   

Most recovery programs are focused on restoring the physical and psychological damage caused by chronic drug abuse.  There are also several research projects that have been able to show how exercise helps in addiction recovery.  Some of these outcomes are so positive that it could motivate people in recovery to include exercise as part of their sobriety maintenance process:

  • PLOS ONE is a Vanderbilt University study of how exercise impact individuals that were considered to be marijuana dependents who did not care to stop or even reduce their drug use.  The participants ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes 10 times over a two-week period.  At the end of the test period, with exercise being used as the only intervention, cravings for marijuana decreased by more than 50% after those 10 exercise sessions.
  • If staying clean is not enough of an incentive, a 2012 study published in the neuroscience journal Synapse revealed that exercise can help to restore damage done to the brain by chronic drug use.  In this study, researchers put rats on a meth binge.  After the drug had burned out their dopamine and serotonin receptors, some of the animals were caged while others were made to run.  The brain damage in the exercised rats showed significant improvement to their dopamine and serotonin receptors as opposed to the caged rats whose brain showed no change in their condition.  

According to Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), exercise provide so many benefits in so many areas of physical and mental health that the agency has pooled over 100 exercise and neurobiology experts for a two-day conference focused on physical activity as a strategy for prevention and the role it can play in the recovery process and sobriety maintenance. At the conference NIDA also announced a $4-million-dollar commitment for new research into exercise as it relates to addiction prevention and recovery.     While researchers are busy validating exercise, here are some ways in which walking, running, push-ups, squats and sprints can help you if you are in addiction recovery.

  • Alleviate cravings and depression:  Many people struggle with cravings even after completing drug rehab and being abstinent for a period of time. Physical exercise causes the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids which is a marijuana-like substance that, in essence, produces a natural high and help to reduce cravings.
  • Stress reduction: According to a Mayo Clinic report, exercise in virtually any form can act as a stress reliever. A chemical released in the brain during exercise help to minimize the drug seeking patterns of behavior that is characteristic of addiction.  
  • Enhances moods:  Regular exercise has been shown to increase self-confidence which alternately improves feelings of well-being
  • Improve Sleep:  People who engaged in physical activity through work or exercise during their day tend to fall, stay asleep longer and experience better quality sleep than individuals with sedentary jobs and no exercise routines.  

While by itself, exercise is not a cure for addiction, it can act as a distraction from drug use with some positive benefits. For those in recovery, adding exercise to a drug and alcohol recovery program can prove to be an effective part of any relapse prevention program.

Sources:

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