Physical Health and Recovery

person tying running shoes

By Cristina Utti MA, MFA

Alcohol and drug abuse takes a toll on the body, not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. In recovery, it is equally as important to heal the physical body as we delve into the emotional and psychological patterns that got us an addiction to begin with.

Successful recovery from an addiction requires a comprehensive approach to physical, social, psychological, and spiritual well-being. The mind-body connection needs to be repaired for one to function in a healthy manner as a whole. The best way to do this is through proper nutrition and exercise.

Many people with addictions suffer from low self-esteem. They seek escape through their addiction. As a result, the brain can suffer neurological damage—this is why it is called a brain disease. The abuse of drugs and alcohol causes a neurological imbalance, effecting the person’s ability to feel ‘good’ naturally. Regular exercise has proven to repair the damage in the brain, naturally altering brain chemistry.

Stephen Ilardi, author of The Depression Cure, claims aerobic exercise to be a potent antidepressant. Many people that struggle with drug and alcohol abuse also suffer from depression. For those that do not, coming off of substances can cause depression. It is often a vicious cycle. To get off of this terrible cycle of using and depression, Ilardi recommends exercising for about 35 minutes at least three times a week. if someone has been sedentary, they can build up to these times. Certain chemical changes occur during cardiovascular exercise. Endorphins are classified as “endogenous opioid polypeptides” and are thought to be produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during strenuous exercise, and in response to pain, excitement and other stress stimuli. Once these endorphins are produced, they get distributed throughout the nervous system where they interact with the opiate receptors to reduce our perceptions of pain. They are also linked to feeling of well being and euphoria. I have often wondered why running the first mile is the most difficult, because after that, these receptors kick in. This is why long distant runners can run a long time. After a certain amount of time, these endorphins are produced, giving a feeling of euphoria, and blocking the pain. Regular exercise rebuilds these receptors naturally, producing the same feelings that were felt by using substances, without the devastating after effects.

Several drug treatment facilities are now incorporating exercise into their drug treatment programs. In Faulkner and Taylor’s Exercise, Health, and Mental Health: Emerging Relationships, they published a report on several treatment facilities that were studied for their exercise programs. These exercise programs included cardiovascular workouts, aerobics, strength training, biking, jogging, hiking, baseball, softball, and the like. The findings of their study showed that not only do exercise regimens significantly decrease anxiety and depression, but also reduce cravings and improve long term abstinence. Therefore, individuals that get into a workout routine are more likely to stay clean and sober for life.

Addictions are rooted in in emotional and physiological issues. Building a healthy mind, body, spirit connection is vital to individuals in recovery from addictions. I have only mentioned a few of the many studies that have been conducted that have proven the positive benefits of exercise for people recovering from addictions and behavioral disorders. Here is a quick run down of the benefits:

Psychological Benefits

  • Improved mood
  • Improved outlook on life
  • Reduction in depression and anxiety
  • Builds self-esteem
  • Provides a healthy hobby to occupy time that one has once they stop using
  • Builds a better body image
  • Clearer thinking
  • Natural feelings of euphoria
  • Boosts confidence as one gets back in shape
  • Increases chances of finding life enjoyable and satisfying
  • Reduces tension

Physical Benefits

  • Boosts energy naturally
  • More restful sleep (sleep is often disturbed in early recovery)
  • Improved circulation
  • Improves muscle strength
  • Helps rid the body of toxins
  • Helps “rewire” the brain’s endorphins to feel good naturally
  • Builds brain matter
  • Greater capacity for memory and cognitive skills

If you or a loved one is seeking a treatment facility, look for one that incorporates physical fitness into their program. When people first come through the doors of a rehab, physical fitness is probably the last thing on their mind, yet this is one of the tools we can use to begin and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Once we put down the drug, drink, or whatever other addiction we spent hours obsessing over, time opens up. Filling this time with new activities that get the body moving has more benefits than we can imagine. In the beginning of recovery, we may not be ready to work out for thirty minutes at a time, or go for 5 mile hikes or runs. Remember, any kind of physical movement helps. As your body heals, it will get stronger though physical exercise. So, get up and get moving!

Needing treatment and prefer one that understands the importance of physical health and recovery? Contact the Ranch at Dove Tree today at 806.307.2003.