If you are recovering from a drug or alcohol use disorder, physical activity is beneficial for healing both your body and mind. Your physical and mental health are strongly intertwined. Regular physical activity is an excellent way to maintain lasting recovery as you focus on maintaining lasting sobriety.
What is Recovery?
It is difficult to define recovery with one clear or single definition. This is because, like addiction, what recovery looks like from person to person will vary. In general, those who have successfully put their dependence on drugs or alcohol in the past will refer to themselves as being “in recovery.” However, there is more to recovery (and maintaining recovery) than achieving sobriety.
It is important to remember that everyone’s journey to recovery is unique. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) offers perhaps the most inclusive definition of recovery that considers the different journeys everyone follows. SAMHSA defines recovery as “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”
What are the Benefits of Activity on Your Body and Mind?
Physical activity is a powerful component of helping you maintain lasting sobriety. When combined with ongoing self-care, therapy, and other types of treatment, physical activity can help prevent relapse by improving your mental health, filling idle time, creating a routine, and elevating your self-esteem.
Mental health benefits of activity
Regular physical activity offers many emotional benefits. When you participate in physical activity (even low-impact activities), your body releases endorphins. These chemicals interact with specific parts of your brain involved in pain management. Although the reaction to endorphins is similar to what is provided by medications, it does not lead to dependence on drugs or alcohol. However, it can lead one to want to experience the euphoria and energy that occur after exercise, which can promote continued, regular physical activities.
Routine activity can also help your mental health in other ways. Mental health challenges like depression and anxiety often co-occur with substance use disorders. There are many studies that prove the benefits of physical activity on mental health. Incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine can help improve your overall mental health and reduce the risk of mental health conditions leading to relapse.
Physical health benefits of activity
Many of the physical health benefits of activity are well known. Regular activity can help you maintain (or lose) weight, strengthen your muscles and reduce the risk of certain age-related conditions such as osteoporosis. Physical activity is also strongly connected to addiction recovery. Weight challenges are not uncommon among those new to sobriety, especially when quitting smoking. Incorporating regular physical activity into your day can help reduce the effects of increased appetite or increased sedation during the early stages of addiction recovery.
Regular physical activity can also help your brain heal. Data from the National Institutes of Health states that physical activity can increase the number of new nerve connections in your brain. This allows the brain to recover from some of the structural and functional harms of frequent drug or alcohol use.
Examples of How to Stay Active in Recovery
The term physical activity can mean many things. For some, it may mean rigorous, strenuous exercise such as high-intensity training, circuit training, or Crossfit. For others, physical activity can be as simple as taking a walk, practicing yoga, or swimming. Again, what physical activity looks like for you, may differ dramatically from what it looks like for someone else. What is most important, however, is staying active.
When choosing the best physical activity or exercise program for you, keep your abilities in mind. Remember that low-intensity or low-impact exercise does not mean that the exercise is less effective than strenuous or high-impact options. Research suggests that engaging in low to moderate physical activity for 15 to 30 minutes per day is enough to achieve many of the health benefits regular exercise can offer.
Also, remember that there may be better options than your first choice. You may have to experiment and try several different activities before you find the one you enjoy most. By experimenting with various physical activity and exercise options, you will learn what you enjoy most and which activities you want to continue doing. The most challenging step is often the first one. Getting started, choosing an activity, and encouraging yourself to maintain a routine can take time and effort. However, once you do, you will be surprised at how physical activity can improve your mental and physical health.
Below are a few examples of some common activities you may find beneficial
There are many benefits to running. But remember that running is not for everyone. Regular running is an excellent way to reduce stress, burn calories, develop self-discipline, and achieve some of your personal fitness goals. Although running on your own is an excellent opportunity for self-reflection, running with others provides a sense of community and reduces the isolation many addicts new to recovery feel as they leave treatment and integrate into their day-to-day lives.
Regular yoga practice can help with both physical and psychological fitness. Yoga can improve mindfulness, decrease pain, reduce stress, and increase your self-awareness. Routine yoga practice has also been shown to help those in recovery reduce their cravings and maintain their mental health. Mindfulness practices such as yoga are often incorporated as part of a comprehensive treatment program at a rehab center like The Hills in Los Angeles. Yoga and similar mindfulness practices are excellent relapse prevention tools you can use when faced with cravings and other challenging triggers after treatment.
Another great way to stay active during recovery is by going for a hike. In addition to the physical benefits of hiking, being out in nature can also produce positive mental health effects. An excellent benefit of hiking is that it can be as low-impact or as high-impact as you want. A hike does not necessarily mean you need to pick the most challenging mountain path. Choose what works for you, and be sure to keep your health and safety in mind if hiking or other physical activities are new to you. It may also help to consult your primary care provider before beginning a physical activity routine such as hiking or more strenuous activities. This is especially true if you have a history of particular medical concerns that might make strenuous activities more harmful than helpful.
Another excellent low-impact physical activity is swimming. Swimming is a perfect option for anyone with a history of injury or muscle and joint problems. Despite its low impact in nature, swimming is an excellent cardiovascular activity. Also, the movement and coolness of the water can help relieve body aches and pains that often accompany withdrawal.
Team or group activities
Getting involved with a team or group activity offers both the benefits of physical activity and the social connections that can help reduce isolation and loneliness, which are common challenges during the early stages of addiction recovery. Many who are new to addiction recovery find they struggle early on to maintain social and even some family connections.
It is not uncommon for someone new to sobriety to experience challenges returning to their community. They often find that their peers and former social groups are challenging to be with because spending time with these individuals can be triggering. As a result, isolation and withdrawal from peer groups and community activities often occur. This is one of the primary reasons why people experience relapse. It is also a key reason aftercare programs involve peer support groups and sober activities.
As part of a sober living community, you will meet and interact with like-minded peers who share similar challenges and goals. Often, sober support groups will host regularly scheduled sober activities such as athletic events, picnics, barbecues, hikes, bike rides, etc. Participating in these activities is an excellent way to stay active in your sobriety and also participate in activities with others who share and support your sober goals.
Remember that no single type of physical activity is “better” than another. Where some may find the greatest benefit from regularly scheduled group activities such as dance classes, martial arts, fitness groups, or team sports, others may feel more comfortable with individual activities, including skiing, yoga, swimming, or weight lifting. Again, this specific activity doesn’t matter so much as choosing an activity that suits your interests and motivates you to stay active.
Get Help with Addiction Recovery at The Hills
If you or a loved one live with a substance use disorder, physical activity alone is not enough to help you achieve sobriety. The first step towards recovery is to seek help at a comprehensive treatment program like our luxury Los Angeles area rehab. Our experienced, professional treatment providers at The Hills will work with you to develop an evidence-based treatment program that helps you through all stages of treatment, including detox, therapy, and aftercare planning.
At The Hills, we offer a full continuum of care for a variety of addiction treatment needs. Our medical and mental health providers are also skilled in addressing dual diagnosis or co-occurring conditions. We understand that everyone who chooses the hills to achieve sobriety comes to our rehab with different treatment needs and goals. As a result, we know that individualized treatment programs are the best way to help each of our patients achieve lasting sobriety.
If you or a loved one is ready to put drug or alcohol addiction in the past and would like to learn more about how luxury rehab in Los Angeles can help you, contact a member of our admissions team today.