Exercise is known to have many benefits for the body, but it’s also good for the brain. The phenomenon of the “runner’s high” is rooted in science: your brain experiences a chemical reward when you exercise. This idea has promising applications in the world of addiction science.
Research shows that exercise can reinforce the effects of addiction treatment and helps people deal with the recovery process; in addition, physical activity may also help prevent substance abuse.
Exercise and Recovery
Physical activity is good for everyone, and it’s especially beneficial for people in recovery. Exercise is a proven stress-reliever, with the ability to relieve both physical and psychological tension. When you can manage your stress in healthy ways, you’re less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape.
Exercise can also affect your brain chemistry: vigorous physical activity causes the body to release endorphins, which create the same kind of “high” you experience when you use drugs. Drug abuse often causes a chemical imbalance that limits your ability to feel that sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
With regular exercise, your body will regain the ability to release and process a normal level of endorphins. If nothing else, physical activity is a great distraction that helps people in recovery keep their mind off cravings.
A number of studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise for people battling drug or alcohol addiction. Research published in Biological Psychiatry notes that rats who used an exercise wheel had reduced cravings for cocaine and suffered less drug-induced brain damage than those who didn’t exercise.
Another study found that drug rehab patients who included exercise in their treatment programs reported a better quality of life and experienced fewer incidences of relapse. Taken as a whole, these studies and others have provided sufficient evidence to support the use of exercise in conjunction with traditional addiction treatment.
Preventing Substance Abuse
Not only is exercise helpful to recovering addicts, but it can also help prevent substance abuse. Studies of drug abuse among teens indicate that exercise increases resistance to addiction. One study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that high school students who engaged in regular exercise were less likely to use marijuana or smoke cigarettes than less active teens.
Researchers are unsure what accounts for the link between exercise and drug use: young adults who choose an active lifestyle may be more likely to make healthy decisions, or they may have an easier time resisting drugs when they’re busy with sports and organized activities.
It’s clear that exercise is beneficial for both the body and mind, and research has shown that physical activity can even help people fight addiction and maintain their sobriety. While exercise alone isn’t enough to overcome drug or alcohol addiction, it can be an effective tool in rebuilding a healthy, sober life.
If you’re struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, you can break free of your addiction and turn your life around. Call us today. Our trained addiction counselors can answer your questions and provide information on our treatment programs.