People are living more sedentary lives than ever, which is having a great effect on public health. You probably know that exercise is good for your physical health and that it can reduce your risk of problems such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. But here’s another reason you should be working out — exercise can aid your addiction recovery. Exercise can reduce cravings and undo some of the changes made by substance use. Here’s how it works, and what you can do.
Relapse is possible following a craving, so people in recovery have two options. One is to avoid situations that trigger cravings, which could be anything from people and places to states of mind and TV programs. However, not all triggers can be avoided, and you can’t live your life in hiding, so the second approach is to take up habits that reduce the strength of cravings when you are faced with a trigger. This is what exercise does.
Cravings arise because substances of abuse change how the brain operates, affecting the way that brain cells send signals to each other. Exercise affects the same areas of the brain, but it does so in a beneficial way. This reverses the changes made by substance abuse, and helps bring the brain back toward normal functioning.
High levels of stress play a huge role in people’s chances of relapse, and it is often part of the reason people turn to substances of abuse in the first place. In one study of people in recovery from opioid addiction, researchers found that many people in recovery do not employ effective stress reduction methods, and that this increased the risk of relapse. This is where exercise comes in. Exercise is a form of stress in itself, but during the recovery periods from exercise, the body learns how to quickly deactivate the stress response. It does this by lowering levels of certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Over time, exercise causes you to experience less stress in response to everyday troubles and challenges.
Better Decision Making
It’s well-known that drugs of abuse can affect decision-making, causing people to be more impulsive and focus on the wrong things when making decisions. As Psych Central explains, this happens due to changes in the brain caused by prolonged use of addictive substances. Exercise can help undo these changes. A study at the London School of Economics found that people who exercise regularly performed better in a decision-making task than people who didn’t. Other studies have shown that exercise can also improve concentration and memory.
How Much Should You Do?
Most of the research looking at addiction recovery and exercise has focused on aerobic exercise. But how much should you do, and when? A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences has some answers to this question. The experiment found that moderate intensity and vigorous intensity exercise both reduced cravings by the same degree — however, vigorous training reduced the cravings for a longer period of time. So one program you could follow is to do regular moderate exercise, building up to 30 minutes five times each week. However, if you experience strong cravings one day, do a 15-minute session of high-intensity exercise, which will help you to ride out the craving until it passes.
What Do You Need to Start Your Post-Recovery Workout Regimen?
While you don’t need to drop a lot of money on fancy gym equipment, there are a few investments you should consider making to help jumpstart your workout routine, especially if you plan on exercising at home. Consider purchasing:
- A gym membership or personal training sessions. Even if you don’t have the budget to join a gym or hire a trainer for the long term, taking group or private classes will teach you moves you can do at home.
- A few basic pieces of equipment. A set of dumbbells or resistance bands and a yoga mat will go a long way toward improving your home workouts.
- Headphones. Today’s top models fit inside the ears and are wireless, making it comfortable to listen to music or a podcast while you’re breaking a sweat — a smart strategy for keeping you from thinking about your substance of choice.
- Comfortable clothing. Not only will the right workout attire keep you comfy, splurging on a few new pieces will motivate you to put them to use.
- Nutritional supplements. Whether you’re looking for protein powder, pre-workout products, or weight control treatments, STSFit has everything you need to power through and recover from your workouts!
If you’re new to exercise, it’s best to start with a low-intensity routine, because you need to give your muscles, tendons and heart a chance to adapt to these new demands. Walking is a good way to start, and then you can build up to jogging, swimming and weight training.