Exercise offers countless benefits for people recovering from addiction—why many drug and alcohol rehab centers have on-site fitness centers and fitness programs. Exercise can reduce stress, regulate hormones and brain chemistry, and boost the immune system after being compromised by chronic drug and alcohol use.
Continue reading to learn more about fitness benefits in recovery and why exercise should comprise every patient’s treatment plan.
What’s the Evidence Related to Exercise and Addiction Recovery?
Several medical studies show that exercise can (1) reduce rates of substance misuse and relapse and (2) help both the mind and body heal from the effects of addiction.
In a 2014 issue of PLoS One, researchers evaluated 22 studies published between 1990 and 2013 that examined the effects of exercise on people with substance use disorders. They concluded that moderate- and high-intensity exercise was extremely effective at increasing abstinence rates and reducing withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, and depression.
In another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, researchers evaluated the effects of regular exercise on 38 men and women who suffered from addiction to drugs, including opioids, cocaine, and amphetamines. Of the 20 people who completed the study, 25% were abstinent one year later, and 50% reported having decreased their substance use during that time.
Exercise also reduces comorbid risk factors associated with substance use disorders, including mental illnesses, and increases well-being, self-esteem, and self-efficacy in those who suffer from addiction, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychiatry.
What Else Can Fitness Do for People in Recovery?
Below are some of the many other benefits of exercise for people recovering from drug dependence and addiction.
Reduces Stress and Pain
Exercise triggers the body’s release of endorphins, which are “feel-good” hormones that naturally reduce stress and physical pain. Exercise can be an effective way to blow off steam and make stressors and problems seem insignificant, even if only for a short time. Stress and anxiety are common relapse triggers and also major risk factors for addiction.
The endorphins released during exercise can also improve a person’s mood, thereby causing feelings of happiness and well-being. Exercise is a natural way to correct imbalances in hormones and brain neurotransmitters—including hunger hormones and brain chemicals that contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 50% of individuals who suffer from addiction will also experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, and vice versa. Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are also common drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Promotes Better Sleep
Engaging in moderate- to high-intensity exercise on most days of the week can improve sleep quality among people in recovery by helping them fall asleep more quickly and preventing them from staying awake in the middle of the night. Exercise also reduces the risk of developing chronic health disorders such as obesity and obstructive sleep apnea that cause poor sleep quality. In addition, individuals who exercise outdoors in the sunshine benefit even more from quality sleep—given how sun exposure increases levels of serotonin—another feel-good hormone that promotes feelings of calm and relaxation.
Insomnia and nightmares are common withdrawal symptoms experienced by people recovering from opioid and alcohol dependence. Exercise can help these individuals combat these symptoms and reduce their risk for relapse.
Strengthens the Immune System
Drug and alcohol misuse can weaken the immune system, thus increasing the risk of illness and disease. These substances contribute to serious health problems, such as chronic inflammation, malnutrition, and various cancers.
Exercise can help the body heal and repair itself and reverse many health issues triggered by addiction. Exercise does this by increasing the circulation of immune cells and strengthening the immune system. Regular exercising can also help the body flush out toxins and drug byproducts in the form of sweat and waste.
Establishing a consistent daily routine and structure can help people in recovery stay sober because it keeps them busy and often leaves no spare time for drug and alcohol use. People in recovery can benefit from scheduling exercise into their daily routines. Joining fitness classes or planning workouts with friends are two ways to encourage commitment to an exercise routine.
What Are the Best Exercises for People in Recovery?
The best exercises for anyone—regardless of whether or not they’re in recovery—are exercises that they truly enjoy and get excited about. Those who dread certain exercises and activities are less likely to stick with their exercise routines compared to those who enjoy what they’re doing.
Many addiction treatment centers help patients find new activities and hobbies to keep them occupied and distracted from drugs and alcohol. Fitness centers and gyms are common amenities available at many treatment centers, along with yoga, swimming pools, and running tracks. Some rehab centers even take patients on fitness outings where they can walk and hike nearby trails.
Recovering From Addiction With Haven Detox
At Haven Detox in Massachusetts, we offer medication-assisted detox services to help people recover from drug and alcohol dependence. Contact us today at (561) 328-8627 to learn more about our many available addiction treatment services and about how we can help you stay on track with sobriety.