What are the best exercises to use as part of a workout for addiction recovery?
Physical fitness is an often neglected part of the addiction recovery and relapse prevention routine. There is so much focus on medical treatment, group meeting involvement, psychotherapy, and even nutrition. Yet, exercise is put off and not taken seriously as an important component of the recovery process.
However, exercise can be one of the most important activities to help you overcome the difficulties of early recovery. Even simple routines, such as taking a short daily walk, can make a big difference.
While getting your heart rate up and your muscles moving can help with your overall health, just the act of getting outside, breathing in fresh air, and seeing the sky and real sunlight shining down can help with your spiritual and psychological health. It can even improve the balance of your brain chemistry.
Why don’t they use addiction recovery exercises in every rehab facility if they help so much?
In the old days, in a treatment program, there was little, if any, emphasis on an exercise program. The focus was on substance abuse treatment and mental health. While some rehab residents engaged in regular exercise on their own, the treatment center would not enforce it for all residents.
Unfortunately, the treatment facility residents might be more likely to develop an eating disorder rather than working on healthy habits. However, over the years, many substance abuse treatment programs have come on board, implementing an exercise plan in conjunction with a focus on mindfulness.
The understanding of the brain, and the effects of addiction on brain functioning, including dopamine and serotonin levels, has improved greatly over the past few decades. Rehab administrators and doctors now understand the importance of therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, combined with a strong fitness routine aimed at promoting physical health in early recovery.
Unfortunately, you cannot depend on rehab to meet all of your mental health needs.
There are great benefits to having an exercise plan of your own and not only the basics enforced by a treatment provider. For example, there have been studies that demonstrate the mental health benefits of activities such as viewing the sunrise in the early morning, or the sunset in the evening.
Exercise releases natural endorphins and promotes the release of healthy neurotransmitters which improve your mood. Seeing the beauty of the orange sky of early morning or evening has a benefit on brain health and mood as well.
You might want to consider timing your daily physical exercise to be at the proper time so that you are going outside for a walk or jog around sunrise. While sunset is also a beneficial time to get similar benefits, you may find that there are less people around in the morning.
You can also enjoy the quietness and solitude of waking up before most of the people in your time zone. If you live near a beach, you might also enjoy walking by the ocean, listening to the soft, soothing sounds of the surf and crashing of the waves.
Of course, where you live might decide for you how and when you walk on the beach. If you live on the west coast, you might choose sunset over sunrise, so you can see the sun setting below the horizon and below the ocean waves in the distance.
Don’t try to talk yourself out of getting out of bed to exercise in the morning.
When you are alone in your room, thinking about getting outside to exercise, you might easily talk yourself out of it. It may seem pointless to wake up and get out of bed.
As negative thoughts swirl around in your head, you think to yourself that fresh air, walking, and the early morning sunrise are not going to help at all. It all seems like a waste of time.
Yet, this is the best time to force yourself to stick to your exercise plan and get outside for a walk. It helps if you plan ahead. Place your outdoor exercise clothing by the bed, ready to go. Be prepared to help yourself overcome negative thinking.
As soon as you are outside and walking, you will notice the difference. Addictive behavior that persists after you quit drugs can still have an effect on decision making. An important part of the recovery process is to push through and do the things that you know are going to be good for you.
You don’t have to live by the ocean to enjoy the benefits of walking by the water.
Many major cities are on the ocean or not too far away. Historically, being near a port was the best way to ensure that trade and the delivery of essential goods was possible for the entire community.
However, you may live further inland and not within a reasonable distance of the ocean. Many cities and suburban communities are far from the ocean. Even if the ocean is only several miles away, it may not be easy to walk, or even drive through traffic, all the way to the beach or ocean side.
Of course, oceans are not the only large bodies of water. You can get a similar effect of being close to water and gentle waves, as well as the soothing sounds of nature, including bird sounds, by going to a nearby lake or river.
Or, you may have access to a safe nature trail for a morning or evening brisk walk. If your walk through the local wooded nature trail takes you past a babbling brook, you might want to stop for a few minutes, appreciating the sounds of rushing water as you contemplate the things you are grateful for in life.
There is nothing wrong with taking short meditative breaks during your exercise routine.
Simply stopping what you are doing and taking a moment to focus on the surrounding sounds is a form of mindfulness meditation. The practice of mindfulness in conjunction with your workout for addiction recovery can make a huge difference in your progress of overcoming addiction.
You can read about mindfulness techniques and even take mindfulness classes, but the best way to get started is to get out and start practicing mindfulness for yourself in the way that you exercise and even as a part of eating daily meals. So, what if going outside is not possible for you?
Maybe you live in the inner city and going outside at the wrong times of day is not safe. Or, it may be extremely cold outside during the winter where you live.
It is possible to get many of the benefits of exercise, mindful focus, and enjoying the beauty of a sunset over the ocean, in the privacy of your own home. You can do this by making good use of the technology that you have available.
For example, rather than using your smartphone for the depressing task of scrolling through social media, you can use it for more positive activities. There are some excellent fitness tracking apps, as well as guided meditations and nature sounds recordings.
And, there are endless educational and motivational podcasts and audiobooks to immerse yourself in while exercising. If you choose to listen to spoken word audio tracks, or even music, be sure to plan ahead to use only positive material that is uplifting or educational material that opens your mind to new possibilities.
When you are in early recovery, it is important to avoid things that you associate with drug use or with negative thoughts or moods.
Even if depressing grunge rock or angry rap is your favorite music, you may want to avoid it as your exercise soundtrack, at least when you first give up drugs. Avoid at all costs listening to songs that you strongly associate with drug use.
Another great use of technology is to do an in-home workout routine while watching a peaceful, meditative video on television. Many people have access now to services such as YouTube on their home televisions. It is not hard to find the beautiful sunrise or sunset over the waves playing for as long as you want right on your TV.
Of course, watching a video of a sunrise is not the same as the real thing, but it is better than nothing, if you are stuck at home. Using your phone and TV to help you relax and focus on positive thoughts and feelings while you stretch and exercise is better than laying on the couch or in bed all day, binge watching a pointless television series.
There are online exercise programs that you can practice at home.
You might even be interested in the aerobic exercise programs available to watch on television. There are many coaches on YouTube who provide workouts for free that you can follow along with on a mat on the floor in front of your TV.
In fact, if you have an Apple TV unit and an Apple Watch, they have a service called Fitness Plus that you may enjoy for a variety of many different types of workouts. To follow the program, you simply put on the watch and television and open the Fitness Plus app.
The system tracks your progress by following your heart rate and movement. You get access to some of the best workout coaches in the industry. They even have meditative relaxation exercises available.
Around the beginning of the year, I decided to try out a trial period of Apple’s Fitness Plus program and found it to be easy to follow and fun. I already had the Apple Watch, and I purchased the Apple TV at Costco.
While I believe that many people will love the variety of workouts available, and especially some of the more peaceful meditative routines, I finally decided to return the Apple TV to Costco. I found the Apple Watch to be the more useful part of the system in tracking my activity and helping me to complete my own custom workouts.
It is a great feeling to have regular reinforcement from the fitness tracking watch to let you know that you have completed your daily quota of steps and activity. Of course, there are several excellent brands of fitness tracking watches, including FitBit.
Even if you are taking Suboxone and feel great in early recovery, exercise is still important.
If you are in treatment for opioid addiction, you may not feel the need to change your routine after giving up your substance addiction. Going on Suboxone therapy can give you the feeling as if you never had a drug addiction problem.
People on medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone, ZubSolv, Subutex, Bunavail, or Sublocade for opioid use disorder usually go right back to regular daily activities, including home life and work. If exercise was not a part of their previous routine, they may not want to get started now on an exercise plan.
Yet, even with successful medical treatment for addiction, exercise is still just as important. While exercise can be used to help a person struggle through the depression and cravings of early recovery, it can also be used to support successful medical treatment of addiction.
Even if you feel great, without cravings, depression, or withdrawal symptoms, because your Suboxone is working, you should still consider engaging in exercise for addiction recovery. Establishing a regular exercise routine is important in order to prepare for handling your adjustment to tapering the medication when you are ready.
For more information on the subject, you may find our opiate recovery podcasts to be useful. In fact, we have excellent upcoming episodes on this particular subject. Keep an eye out for our podcast updates towards the end of the month.
Should I be worried about becoming addicted to exercise?
There are people who seem to have an exercise addiction. They go to the gym every single day and engage in excessive exercise. By overdoing their workouts, they constantly risk serious injury.
Years ago, I worked with a trainer in the gym. I was wary of continuing the program, because I felt like there were times when he pushed me too hard, to lift too much weight or do too many reps.
I knew, from our conversations, that he had had back surgery many years prior. Of course, I was curious about the story behind the surgery. Why did a muscular gym trainer need low back surgery.
One day, while doing a leg press exercise with an incline machine that used heavy free weight plates, I asked him about the surgery. Maybe it was because I was starting to feel a back ache from pressing so much weight with my legs.
It didn’t make me feel any better about my workout when he replied that it was the very machine I was using that caused his injury! He was putting me at risk for the same serious injury that caused him to require surgery.
What are the chances of becoming addicted to exercise while attempting to overcome a drug addiction?
While the main concern is to avoid your drug of choice and drugs similar to that drug, it is possible to use other drugs or activities addictively. People who are in recovery from drug addiction do often find themselves over-indulging in other activities.
Food addiction, work addiction, sex addiction, and gambling addiction are all possible. Exercise addiction is also a risk. However, you can take advantage of what might be seen as a positive addiction, if there is such a thing. As long as you are careful to avoid injury, there is nothing wrong with establishing a habit of daily exercise.
Of course, avoiding injury is the most important consideration in starting an exercise program. If you injure yourself, you will not be able to continue exercising for a while. You might also require surgery and experience ongoing pain.
Especially, if you are in recovery from opioid addiction, you must be especially careful to avoid situations that might lead you back to opioid use. Exercise-related injuries can lead to acute and chronic pain, which might lead to doctor visits and opioid prescriptions.
Taking even a mild opioid can trigger severe cravings and relapse. While it is possible for doctors to treat pain when needed for a patient who has had an opioid addiction, it is something to avoid, if at all possible.
Exercise and addiction recovery go well together.
While exercise by itself is not an addiction recovery program, it should be included as part of a comprehensive plan for recovery. Exercise, nutrition, supplementation, therapy, medical treatment, and spiritual activities, can all be important components of a successful recovery program.
And, if you can combine exercise with spiritual practices, such as mindful meditation and spending time outdoors, you will get the benefits of physical, emotional, and spiritual improvements, all from a single daily session. For even better results, you might want to plan for morning and evening exercise.
As long as you are careful, and take things slowly, you can have safe and productive workouts that help your brain and body readjust to healthy living without the need for substance use. Many of our feelings, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are related to brain chemistry and reinforced neural pathways.
By treating our brains and bodies properly, by exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking or remaining sedentary, we can help to balance and boost our brain chemistry. We can promote the development of healthy habits that will, in turn, promote a more healthy way of living in recovery.