By Maddie Santiago
Battling addiction can be a very trying time both physically and emotionally. Over 20 million Americans suffer from substance abuse and alcoholism. While there are many ways to go about dealing with addiction there is no one way that works for everyone. This is partly due to the many different kinds of addiction that need to be treated accordingly. That being said, there is one thing that can benefit nearly everyone during their road to recovery, physical fitness!
Addictions cause the balance and levels of ‘happy’ chemicals that our body naturally produces, such as dopamine, in our brain to be disrupted. Many substances cause a surge of these certain chemicals, this creates a very good and intense feeling, the ‘high’. Studies have shown that exercise can help return dopamine levels to original, pre-abuse levels. When we perform any type of physical activity, our body releases endorphins. Like many of us know, endorphins are chemicals produced by the body that create feelings of happiness.
Many ways of battling addiction do so by trying to replace the substance abuse’s ‘high’ with a healthier option. By finding a way to replace the happy feelings, instead of a sudden drop of those happy chemicals, it can ease the transition into a healthy life. Since physical fitness produces a natural and healthy ‘high’, it can be used as a safe way to replace the feelings of substance abuse’s high.
Exercise can also help regulate the body’s sleep cycle, something that addiction may disrupt. Many addicts suffer from insomnia, and can’t sleep without using. Restful sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Physical fitness is a great outlet for negative emotions like anxiety, frustration, or sadness. It is also a great stress reliever. While it is important to rid the body of stress in general, some addictions are fueled by stress-induced cravings. By exercising instead, it can rid the need for substance usage in that case.
If someone doesn’t like working out or perhaps never have tried it before, they shouldn’t be discouraged. In order for fitness to help with the battle of addiction, there is no need for strenuous or intense workouts. Any physical activity like a hike or brisk walk around the neighborhood will also produce endorphins.
There are many different ways of exercising. To make a routine stick, it is important to find a physical activity that is enjoyable to the person who is doing it. Power yoga works on strengthening the body and releases dopamine in the brain. More restful and restorative yoga can serve as a meditative stress and anxiety reliever, things that can trigger relapse. Hiking and walking can help reduce cravings and promote new brain cell growth. Weight training and body weight exercises like, push-ups or sit ups, can help regulate the sleep cycle. Team sports can also help in more ways than just releasing endorphins. They can help recovering addicts create meaningful relationships that don’t revolve around substance abuse or alcohol.
While a program that fights addiction through fitness can be used as the main approach, it doesn’t have to be. Even if different route is being taken to battle addiction, adding fitness can benefit the recovery process. It can be used to supplement the process. Since recovery is a difficult time, a stress reliever is a nice addition to anyone fighting addiction’s routine.
Once the recovery process has been completed and sobriety has been achieved, people now have new addiction-free healthy lifestyle. A healthy and lifestyle with physical fitness can be a better lifestyle than the person had before substance abuse or alcoholism stared to overwhelm their life. A healthy lifestyle and fitness routine can also help keep their life on track in the years following addiction.