Feb 6, 2023

The Role of Exercise in Recovery From Alcoholism

Diving into the world of exercise strengthens your body and holds the key to unlocking a happier, healthier brain – a crucial element for those on the journey to addiction recovery. Physical activity releases endorphins, training your brain to produce mood-enhancing chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which improve sleep quality, energy levels, and overall well-being.

Incorporating exercise into your recovery plan can combat depression and anxiety, making addictive substances less appealing. Read on to discover how much exercise is recommended, how to strike a healthy balance, and the benefits of using exercise as a vital tool for addiction recovery.

What Does Exercising Do to the Human Brain?

Exercise has impacts throughout the body. In addition to strengthening muscles, it can also lead to changes in the brain. Because physical activity releases endorphins, it can train your brain to release reward chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. This process can improve mood, sleep quality, energy, and more. 

Having these chemicals floating around naturally also trains your brain to produce them in response to other activities, such as participating in your favorite hobbies. This combats depression and anxiety and can make addictive substances less tempting. 

How Much Should Someone Exercise?

How much exercise a person needs varies significantly from person to person. However, you can follow these general guidelines and increase or decrease as necessary to reach a comfortable level. 

The recommendation for the general population looking to stay healthy is to get at least 75 minutes of intense exercise weekly. Recommendations also include strength training two days a week.   

Those in recovery can apply these recommendations. If you struggle to reach these goals, back off and begin working toward them again. If you find them too easy and are looking for more, you can design a more intense routine or takes more time.

Can You Exercise Too Much?

While moderate amounts of activity are healthy and beneficial to recovery, exercising too much can put excess strain on the body and result in injury. However, everyone has a different limit. 

You should do your best to be self-aware when exercising. Work slowly to increase your limit, and don’t push yourself too much at one time. Set healthy boundaries for yourself, and if something starts to hurt or doesn’t feel right while you are exercising, stop and take a break. It would help if you also built breaks into your exercise routine rather than exercising daily, so you can give your body time to rest. 

The Role of Exercise in Recovery from Addiction

Exercise is an excellent addition to an addiction recovery plan, but it is rarely enough. It would be best to combine it with other treatment and aftercare forms. This may include medication-assisted therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and group therapy. 

You can even use it with attendance at self-help support groups, which can provide a place to find an exercise group and discuss exercise routines with others. 

5 Ways Exercise Can Improve Recovery

Exercising in recovery has many benefits. It dramatically increases your quality of life, which aids in recovery and the prevention of relapse

Improved Mood

A good mood can make the recovery process more manageable. An improved mood indicates that your body produces chemicals like dopamine and serotonin without alcohol. This process can make cravings easier to resist since you know you can feel good without a drink.

Increased Energy

Although a good workout can leave you tired and worn out, it can increase your overall energy. This gives you more power to focus on other activities and tasks in your life. 

Stronger Immune System

Regular exercise keeps the body functioning correctly. It can push your heart and lungs to work more efficiently, strengthens muscles, and produces a variety of endorphins that have positive effects throughout the body. All these things can promote a more robust immune system which is especially important when recovering from an alcohol use disorder that can weaken the immune system.

Better Sleep

With how common sleep disturbances can be during alcohol addiction and recovery, a natural way to promote healthy sleep can be important to overall recovery. This allows you to feel better rested and prepared for the day. It can also help you resist cravings for a drink to help you settle into bed at night. 

Could Help Prevent Relapse

Regular exercise is a positive factor in preventing relapses. While there is no guarantee that you will never relapse, exercising is one of the many steps you can take to minimize that risk. It helps you feel better overall and can help manage some risk factors for relapse, such as stress and mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. 

The Best Exercises for Someone In Recovery

Exercising during alcoholism recovery is very beneficial, but which type of exercise is right for you is primarily based on preference. This can include cardio, yoga, swimming, weight lifting, hiking, running, and more.

If running and hiking aren’t suited to your tastes, you can always try yoga. If you enjoy dancing, something like Zumba may be perfect for you. The important thing is to find a type of exercise you like and can do consistently. 

How to Include Exercise in an Aftercare Program

People working on treating and managing their alcoholism should work exercise into their recovery program as soon as possible. If you’re working with Massachusetts Center for Addiction, they often offer aftercare programs to help sustain your recovery. After your initial alcoholism treatment, they can easily incorporate exercise.

You can also participate in self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs that organize exercise groups for participants. These programs offer community and accountability to support your exercise routine and long-term recovery. No matter how you incorporate exercise into your aftercare program, ensure it’s a good fit. Hence, you get the most out of it.

MCA Staff
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