Exercise and Addiction

It’s no secret that dealing and struggling with addiction can lead to, well, “irritable” behavior. Addiction is a disease of the brain, and disease of behavior – it usurps and corrupts a person’s thought process, making it extremely tough to regain control. However, research shows – and has been showing for a while – that one of the best ways to summarily battle addiction and the mental health issues that crop up alongside it is through the short-term and long-term physical and mental benefits of strenuous exercise.

Exercise within its own right is a necessary aspect of a regular healthy human life. Regardless of whether we keep fit as a hobby, a necessity, or a career, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 75 minutes a week of strenuous aerobic exercise (also known as cardio), and strength training sessions twice a week.

But it’s beyond that – when exercise becomes a more fundamental part of a person’s weekly schedule – that the benefits truly begin to show for those struggling with addiction recovery. Maintaining a schedule that works for you, juggling work and recovery, and dealing with any individual pains and pangs that may hinder your recovery – it can all be a bit much, but it’s manageable with the right help.

Your Mind After Drugs

We know what drugs do to the mind during an addiction – but it’s arguably the point right after an addiction where people reach their emotional lows. When talking about how addiction usurps and corrupts the brain, it’s equally important to acknowledge that in no way does this mean you’re absolved from the responsibility of your actions, or the tremendous task of overcoming addiction. Every addict, regardless of how they first became addicted, owes it to themselves to break the addiction.

But it’s understandably tough to do so. Even after rehab, plunging back into life after having spent so much time masking every issue and every problem with instant gratification means that a recovering patient will have to very quickly learn how to deal with a large number of issues. Independence and successful living is tough for any adult – for someone dealing with the constant temptation of washing away their worries and problems in a stupor, fighting that temptation and dealing with problems head-on can at first, lead to what we call erratic behavior.

This includes being irritable, constantly swinging between depression and a sober serenity, and dealing with the painful possible aftermaths of weeks, months, and even years of addiction.

Addiction is not just a physical and mental affliction for an individual – it’s countless bad choices, mistakes, and broken relationships, adding up and hitting you in the face for the full value when sobriety kicks in. It’s like running amok through a valley of hungry wolves, ignoring each of them until you turn around and face a monstrous pack all at once. We each deal with lone wolves in our way, but against a pack, it’s much harder to mount an emotional and psychological defense. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Exercise and Addiction

It’s clear that exercise is wonderful. It helps us stave off diseases and increases our resilience to pathogens. It corrects our posture and keeps the body healthy into old age. And it even keeps the brain young. But when you begin to make a hobby out of exercise, the benefits can pile up.

You’ll see an increase in self-esteem and confidence. Your ability to make decisions and stand by them is increased, and your independence and motivation increase as well. Through exercise, you can manage and reduce stress levels, and even practice meditation in a way. And exercise as a tool against addiction has a long track record of research.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and too much exercise can be disastrous – from torn muscles to damaged and injured knees, and an overblown physique presenting unique difficulties such as heart failure in extreme endurance athletes due to a massive heart and a continuous drop in exercise over the decades. But in healthy moderation – anything from thrice a week to five heavy sessions a week with adequate rest – exercise is a wonderful way to fight against the symptoms of early addiction recovery. And it’s especially effective in a group.

Where Help Counts the Most

Addiction strives in isolation. Through a proper post-rehab program or sobriety support group, you can fight off and conquer the voices in your head by overpowering them with positivity, optimism, and motivation. Be inspired by the successes of others. Feel empowered and achieve a new sense of purpose when helping others get back on the horse. And when you turn to face your pack of wolves, feel comfort in not standing alone.

Addiction can be beaten alone, and enough people have done it. But many others fail because they don’t seek help, or they don’t get the help they need. Something as simple as hitting the gym with a group of people – regardless of whether they’ve dealt with addiction before – can be massively helpful to your chances of long-term sobriety.

By combining the effects of exercise as an active form of meditation and mindfulness, the neurological benefits of exercise to regulate your mood, exercise as stress management and coping mechanism, and the positive self-esteem you gain through a stronger, healthier body, you get a full package of all-round physical and mental benefits while making new friends and dealing with life’s problems, regardless of how challenging they end of being.

In fact, you may even appreciate the challenge, and learn to love life no matter what it throws at you.

It’s Not Just Exercise

You don’t have to be a “gym-rat” or a “weekend warrior” to gain the benefits that strenuous exercise awards. Not everyone can afford to so, either physically or financially, and many wouldn’t want to. While the body benefits from a good physical routine regardless of your feelings towards the gym, there are other ways to achieve that regular sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Plunging head-first into any hobby, or even making your way into a career you truly love can distract you from any temptations, give you the motivation to avoid addiction through simple accountability, and it can become the positive long-term coping mechanism you may need for anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders.

In the end, however, you choose to go about it, the lesson is that “ending” the addiction is just the beginning of a long road of recovery – one that starts incredibly rocky for most people. By keeping yourself occupied in a healthy, constructive way, you vastly increase your chances of truly beating your addiction.