Managing Stress in Recovery: Exercise

Managing Stress in Recovery: Exercise

This month, L.A. CADA is looking at coping with stress during recovery from addiction. WebMD reports that about 60% of people who seek help for a substance use disorder (SUD) will use drugs or alcohol again within a year. And that’s why researchers continue to search for new and effective ways to prevent relapse.

There’s growing evidence that exercise can be a powerful tool. Experts think regular physical activity can act as a healthy stand-in for addictive substances. That’s because exercise and drugs work on similar parts of our brain. They both activate our reward pathway, which triggers the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.

Early research shows that aerobic exercise and resistance training in particular might help with addiction recovery. Aerobic, or cardio, exercises get our heart rate up for a sustained period. That includes: walking; running; swimming; boxing; hiking; gardening; dancing; and water aerobics. 

Resistance, or strength-training, exercises work your muscles. Examples include: some kinds of  yoga; weightlifting; push-ups or sit-ups; squats or lunges; and heavy gardening, such as digging.

Many patients with various substance use disorders have found that exercise also helps to distract them from cravings. Workouts add structure to the day. They help us with forming positive social connections, and work to treat depression and anxiety in combination with other therapies. In addition, exercise can naturally and positively alter your brain chemistry. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which create a natural high.

But how do we get motivated to exercise? What motivates you may change from day to day. That means digging deep to find that thought, goal, or reward that will get you moving today. A good one is “I’m going to do it because I deserve this.” Make sustaining motivation easier by eliminating your excuses before they happen. But most of all, realize that all of this gets easier with practice. When you exercise consistently, you gradually fill your motivational silo as you understand what works to get you moving. Your own actions are what generate that feeling you’ve been searching for. 

Watch: Stop Cravings with Exercise

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