Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Power of Exercise During Recovery
It’s no secret that working out is beneficial for your body and mind – especially during recovery and as you determine a plan to keep from relapsing. Exercise has many scientific advantages for staying healthy, both physically and mentally. Not only will your body develop muscle mass, see an increased production of natural antibodies to combat infection, and create more endorphins for you to feel good about yourself simply, your mind will become more focused and you’ll even feel a sense of calm and well-being in your day to day life. Even though you probably know about all this, it can sometimes be difficult to resist the temptation to stay on the couch and forgo a good workout.
As a recovering user, you need the benefits of a workout regime as much as anyone. Regular exercise provides some significant advantages to those who are working hard to get – and stay – sober. Whether you’ve just detoxed, are acknowledging what it means to be a user, have graduated from a rehabilitation program, or have been sober for years and are working on your relapse prevention plan, exercise remains one of the few tools that will help you wherever you are on your journey.
We all have those days when we don’t feel like getting up, getting out there and moving. This can be especially true in the early days of recovery when you’re questioning a lot of things about your past, your present, and even your future. The mind tends to wander and dwell on the more unpleasant and stressful aspects of past mistakes and future obligations – in particular for those recovering from addiction. Sometimes, it can just seem to be too much to handle. So, this brings us to our first point regarding exercise:
Moving Your Body Helps You Focus on the Present
And the present is exactly where you need to be!
You’ve probably heard about how important it is to live in the moment by not focusing on the past or the future. Sounds, great, right? But what if you don’t have the time to meditate or you are having so much trouble relaxing that you feel like you’re going to jump out of your own skin?
Sitting still and getting into a meditative state is definitely beneficial, but it takes practice. Many people find that it is helpful to practice this treatment when you are already in a calm and peaceful situation. If you’re in the middle of stressing out and feel anxiety already flowing through you, and if you aren’t exactly adept at meditating, chilling out may be a little challenging.
I Was Running
The answer? Run. Running is easy. Even if you believe that you are most decidedly not a runner, running and jogging are in your DNA. Early humans ran as a way to wear down some types of animals. Yes, that’s right. Humans have evolved so that they can actually outrun other types of predator animals.
First, take a look at human legs. They are long and packed with tendons, muscles, and ligaments that help us store energy as we come down on our feet which then helps us go forward. In fact, the most important tendon – the Achilles – evolved as humans started running about 2 million years ago to find food. Our entire lower body including our torsos and bottoms has evolved to make running easier and sustained.
Just take a look at our ape cousins and observe their shorter legs and more compact muscles. Humans have literally grown upwards; this happened because of our need to run. However, even more compelling is how humans are really good at sweating and can dissipate body heat faster than any other large mammal. The reason for this isn’t so we can buy deodorant and smell nice.
History of Running
Yes, we are slower than other migratory and social carnivores such as horses, wildebeest, wild dogs and hyenas, as they can out-sprint humans by galloping. However, these types of animals rely on panting with shallow, rapid breaths. They must slow down to a trot in order to cool off. Humans are able to sustain a moderate speed, which means we can outrun dogs at distances greater than 1.2 miles. In fact, scientists have learned that early man would go on long runs in order to literally run their prey to death.
So, knowing that humans are really made to run, once you start running, your body will eventually feel at home. Yes, it can be uncomfortable at first, and yes, you may get tired. But when you give it a chance, your brain will shift, your primary thoughts will soften and you’ll not be able to focus on anything other than the moment you are in.
A User’s Brain
This is what an user’s brain needs: to be completed immersed in the present. You probably know that you need to take things one day at a time. Sometimes, even a minute at a time. When you run, you have nothing but your legs and your breath. Because you are focusing on getting to the next stop or the next mile, you do not have time to think about the next day. There is only the run. And for a couple of moments, you are free from your past and your future. You are in the now.
The same thing happens when you weight train, swim or ride a bike. In fact, any type of cardio or activity that forces you to shift your thoughts and movements on a heart-pumping task can take you out of panic or “what if?” mode.
As endorphins flood your brain during exercise, a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) accompanies it. BDNF helps act as a sort of reset switch. It actually helps repair memory neurons, which is why we often feel at ease and clear after exercising.
Your Brain Craves Exercise
There are many scientific studies out that that explains what happens when you expose your body and brain to an addictive substance. The naturally occurring chemicals that surge throughout your body as a reaction to a foreign substance that alters you are extremely powerful and can change your brain.
Although most people already know that exercise works to distract users from using, newer studies are showing that it actually boosts production of those already naturally occurring chemicals (which are the same ones sparked by most drugs of addiction). So, your naturally occurring chemicals are helping stave off unpleasant detox side effects.
The Extra Benefits of Exercise
Also, studies are now showing that your brain, when flooded with exercise-induced hormones, can start to heal and actually rewire itself. Neuroplasticity- as this phenomenon is known as – re-grooves our memory pathways, which are battered by extensive substance abuse. It was long believed that patients with an addiction were unable to imprint newer memories to help avoid repeating the behavior that leads to drug abuse. However, this may not be true. You have to work at it definitely, but your brain can evolve. Exercise helps with this.
Some interventionists and counselors believe that users need – not just benefit from – something natural and healthy like exercise. When users quit their drug of choice and don’t augment their lives with something constructive, are they really living a full life? This is the question that some therapists are posing to their clients.
Remember that the brain doesn’t know the difference between imaginary and real events. If you continue to think about the past, you’re reliving it. Exercise combats those memories by physically helping you heal and creating new ones.
Your Physical Health Is Imperative
You should try to stay as healthy as possible. There are many reasons why you’ve heard the saying, “when you have your health, you have everything.” If you are healthy, you can control your situation because you are thinking clearly, your body is strong and you can adapt. When you are ill and your immune system is down, your body is working overtime to get you better. Think back to when you had your last cold or bought of flu – it was probably even a challenge just to breathe.
Relapse prevention takes a lot of work. You have to make sure all facets of your being – mental, physical, and spiritual – are healthy and strong. If aspect is lacking, you are more likely to slip. When you’re sick and not feeling great, you’re in a weakened state and can’t fight for your sobriety as hard as you could when you’re 100% healthy.
When you’re actively using, you are taking a toll on your body. More than likely you have neglected your physical health, as substance abusers are often far more focused on how to get a fix than how to get healthy. The perpetual cycle of addiction can wear down and literally poison the body.
So, when you start on the road to recovery, you have some making up to do with your physical health. Regular workouts and nutrition must play a big part in your recovery plan. When your body is physically strong, you can stay mentally strong as well. It’s important that every facet of your being is fighting for your sobriety. The fight is worth it.
Fitness and Recovery Working Together
If you are just starting out on your journey to recovery and are learning to work out safely, meet with a doctor who can refer you to a personal coach or put you on a regimen that will get you on track to a proper, fun and satisfying workout routine. We strongly believe that recovery can happen through staying healthy, fit and clean.