Each morning, as the sun begins to rise in the sky, an addicted person in recovery must make the painful decision that today will be a sober day. Despite how much the body might call out for drugs, and despite how much the brain might want to listen to that call, the person makes a choice that today won’t be the day that a relapse takes place.
But how can people in recovery stick to their plans, when their bodies are desperate for the drugs they once found so enjoyable? For some, the answer comes in a structured health and fitness program.
By learning how to take care of their bodies and experience the exhilaration that comes with exercise, people in recovery might be able to stave off a relapse for just one more day.
Adding fitness to a standard treatment program for addiction isn’t new, and there are many ways in which facilities might teach their clients how to move their bodies and care for their tissues. In an article in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, for example, researchers found that these were the types of activities that were most commonly provided in an addiction treatment program:
People who enrolled in these programs may not have been physically active since childhood, but the courses tend to begin with mild and gentle moves that almost anyone could handle. In time, the exercise sessions might grow more intense and rigorous, as a person’s physical health improves.
Learning how to move, stretch and compete could be an important part of healing, but people who are unclear about how to eat right and otherwise care for their bodies might not be physically capable of participating in a fitness program. People who have advanced cases of addiction might also have physical limitations due to the abuse they undertook during their addiction. Fitness programs attempt to be sensitive to this by providing clients with assessments at the start of treatment, ensuring that clients are capable of a workout. Facilities might also sprinkle in classes on nutrition, stretching and injury management, just to ensure that clients have a complete picture of what they’ll need to do in order to participate in a rigorous program like this.
Getting sweaty might not seem appealing to people in recovery, but the benefits of an exercise program are many. For example, programs like this have a socialization aspect, meaning that the same people tend to participate in the same classes on the same days. For people who are accustomed to social opportunities that revolve around the use and abuse of drugs, this can be a remarkable change. By participating in a fitness program, they’ll make friends who are also dedicated to physical activity, and they’ll be doing something social in the company of others that has nothing to do with the use and abuse of drugs.
Fitness has also been associated with a variety of mental health benefits.
For example, in an article in the journal American Psychologist, researchers suggest that physical fitness can improve mood, allowing people to feel a little more confident and capable of handling the work that lies ahead of them. This could be due, in part, to the chemicals the brain releases during an episode of exercise. As the muscles bend and stretch, the brain releases tiny chemicals associated with pleasure and satiety. The runner’s high comes about due to these chemicals, but even small levels of exercise can help people to feel a little calmer and relaxed.
Exercise programs also provide people with an activity to fill the time. They have classes to take, nutritious meals to cook and stretches to complete. Resisting a craving is a little easier when the day is packed with activities that are rewarding, and that just can’t be skipped. For some, this is one of the most important benefits of a fitness program.
While it’s common for formal addiction treatment programs to include fitness training, it can be difficult for people to adhere to the fitness plan when they’re living on their own or in a sober living community. The structure of the formal treatment program is missing, and it can be hard to get motivated without that prompt in place.
Some people hire a personal trainer, hoping that this person will spur them on to longer, stronger workouts on a regular basis. A trainer like this has no problem with the idea of motivation, and will happily call or visit a person in order to make the workout take place. That’s just part of the service provided.
Others train for a specific sporting event on their own time, knowing that they’ll have to stick with their workouts in order to prepare for the challenge that lies just a few months in the future. Writer Caleb Daniloff followed this approach, training for a marathon as he recovered from an addiction to alcohol. In the end, he chose to run in the city in which his major binges had taken place, so his run came to symbolize his recovery and his path to a new life. As this story makes clear, for some people, training for an event becomes a meaningful way to stick with a fitness program.
Even those who take things less formally can heal with exercise. They might:
Anything that keeps people moving and keeps the recovery moving forward could be a vital part of a person’s long-term plan for healing and recovery.
Many of the facilities in our sober living database provide residents with exercise equipment, while many more are located close to gyms in the community. If you’d like help in finding a facility like this, or you’d like to know more about how fitness might help you to stay on the sober path toward a new life, please call us. We have counselors who would be happy to talk.