People who regularly take part in aerobic exercise have decreased risks for a broad range of serious physical health problems. Current evidence indicates that an active lifestyle also decreases the odds of developing serious problems with drugs or alcohol. In addition, a regular fitness routine can play an important supportive role in successful addiction treatment and long-term recovery.
Aerobic exercise is the term for any physical activity that leads to significant increases in normal breathing and heart rate. The chief effect of these increases is a boost in the amount of oxygen circulating in the bloodstream. This oxygen feeds organs and tissues throughout the body, including the muscles and brain.
Exercise has several positive effects on everyday brain function[i]. First, it increases the level of activity in an area called the pleasure center. In turn, increased activity in the pleasure center leads to a general uplift in mood. Additional brain-related benefits of exercise include:
In addition, participation in regular aerobic exercise alters the body’s hormone output and improves the ability to handle periods of stress.
There are important connections between the brain/body benefits of aerobic exercise and a reduced chance of developing substance problems. Studies show that people who get regular exercise tend to have better baseline control over their consumption of both drugs and alcohol[ii]. In addition, people with established fitness routines have reduced chances of developing a diagnosable substance use disorder (substance abuse and/or substance addiction).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that physical activity may be especially helpful for teenagers as a form of substance abuse prevention. Part of this benefit derives from the effects exercise has on normal brain and body function. What’s more, by challenging themselves through exercise, teens may simply have less time to devote to substance use and other unhealthy activities.
People enrolled in substance treatment face a range of mental and physical challenges, including the withdrawal process associated with detoxification. This reality raises a question. Can people in drug or alcohol treatment tolerate the stresses that come with beginning a new exercise routine?
A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine addresses this very point. Specifically, the authors of this study looked at what happens to the health of people in residential treatment for methamphetamine addiction when they start exercising regularly[iii]. They concluded that, after eight weeks of aerobic exercise and strength training, the participants under their observation significantly improved in terms of aerobic health, endurance levels, strength levels and muscle-to-fat ratios. The researchers categorized the participants’ response to exercise as “excellent.”
Several studies show that participation in regular aerobic exercise can have important benefits for people in treatment for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Examples of these benefits include:
Exercise can also lead to emotional/psychological changes that support treatment efforts. These changes include such things as:
People enrolled in drug- and medication-related addiction treatment also benefit from exercise in several ways. Specific areas of improvement include:
The emotional/psychological benefits of exercise found in people going through alcohol treatment also apply to people in drug/medication treatment.
No one knows for sure why exercise helps people recover from substance addiction. However, researchers have proposed a number of possible explanations. Chief among these explanations is the potential of regular physical activity to limit the intensity of drug and alcohol cravings, which arise during withdrawal/detox and can remain a major negative force throughout the treatment process.
Other potential explanations for the positive effects of exercise include:
In addition, people in treatment who exercise in groups may gain a benefit from forging healthy connections to others.
Researchers will need to do more work before anyone fully understands the benefits of exercise for people in substance treatment. However, it’s clear that those benefits exist. At Transformations Treatment Center, we understand the importance of physical activity as a supporting factor in addiction recovery. In line with this understanding, we make sure that our clients have plenty of opportunities to exercise and make recreation part of their overall treatment plan.
Whether you or your loved one require inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment, our individualized approach to quality care is designed to promote all aspects of the recovery process and maximize the chances of short- and long-term success.
[i] National Institute on Drug Abuse: Physical Activity May Prevent Substance Abuse
[ii] The Scientific World Journal: Exercise and Physical Activity in the Therapy of Substance Use Disorders
[iii] Journal of Addiction Medicine: Eight Weeks of Exercise Training Improves Fitness Measures in Methamphetamine-Dependent Individuals in Residential Treatment
Originally published at www.transformationstreatment.center