The connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind has long been established. It is usual for those who fall into addiction to be in very poor physical shape, so there may be some real benefits to offering exercise as part of a recovery programme. It is doubtful that exercise alone would be enough to allow individuals to break free of addiction but it can certainly play a significant role, although there are potential dangers that need to be taken into account as well.
The range of benefits that those in recovery can experience from exercise after giving up drinking is impressive, which is why most rehabs now offer this type of activity. The hope is that by getting the individual to partake in exercise while in rehab, it would continue once the person returns home. The types of activities that can be useful include gentle aerobics, yoga, weight training, swimming, tai chi, hiking, jogging, and sports like football. The benefits of exercise include:
- improving mood – it is common for people in early recovery to suffer from negative emotions, so this benefit is definitely important
- increasing self-esteem and self-confidence
- being useful for weight control, meaning the person enjoys an improved body-image
- leading to increased mental and physical energy – it is common for those in early recovery to complain of lethargy
- tending to sleep better at night
- assists in socialising
- helping to improve focus and brain functioning
- increasing the sense of control the individual has over his or her own life
- leading to an improved sex-drive
- meaning the person is less at risk of many types of disease
- it being something positive that people in recovery can do with their time
- reducing the risk of feeling bored in recovery
- developing a more optimistic view of life.
When individuals first give up alcohol or drugs, they are unlikely to be in very good shape mentally or physically. It is important to rectify this situation as soon as possible because it prevents the person in question from making progress. The individual may also use the excuse that they still feel bad as a justification to relapse. It would not be necessary for the person to become super-fit but a light exercise programme would allow the individual to feel physically and mentally better, meaning he or she has a reason to remain sober.
One of the biggest dangers of exercise in recovery is that it could become an addiction substitute. Intense activity releases feel-good hormones in the body, and some people could become too dependent on experiencing this high. The other problem is that by becoming obsessed with exercise, the individual would not be putting sufficient effort into other areas of his or her life. If the person does become addicted to exercise, it can lead to burnout, permanent disability, and eventually relapse back to alcohol or drugs.
The other danger with exercise in recovery is that there can be a temptation to overdo things. This is why it is so important to have a full medical before taking up any new exercise programme. It is also vital to start slowly. It is much better to start with a 10-minute walk every day rather than to leap into a half-marathon on the first attempt.