Have you ever wondered why the best residential rehab programs include exercise as an important therapy for those who want to overcome addiction? It’s not just a matter of improving your health – exercise to beat addiction has been researched in clinical studies, and the results of these studies are truly remarkable.

Reduce cravings

A 2010 study showed that addicted rats had reduced craving for cocaine and less damage to their brains when they exercised regularly. It’s as if all that healthy exercise stopped the rats from wanting drugs, even when they were available.

Have you ever heard of ‘runners’ high’? It’s a natural feel-good sensation that comes from heightened endorphin levels. So apart from helping you to feel great and look fantastic, fitness will also help you to get through your recovery.

Improve quality of life

A survey conducted in Scandinavia found that recovering addicts reported a similar effect to the one observed in the addicted rats. They just weren’t all that interested in drugs when they exercised regularly.

Plus, they reported the kind of benefits that just about anybody who exercises talks about. They felt more upbeat and energetic, and they were pleased with the improvements in their physical appearance.

Reduce stress

Exercise is a great way to let off steam and reduce your stress. If you’re in recovery, you are in a stressful situation, but by sticking to your exercise routine, you can channel your stress into a healthy outlet.

Mental healing is as important as physical healing, and exercise helps with both. Sleep is also important. It’s the time when our bodies and minds heal, and exercise will help you to sleep better at night maximising the benefits of sleep.

Keep your mind busy

When cravings hit, being able to distract yourself from them is a valuable skill. Exercise is a great distraction, and some recovering addicts reach for their running shoes for exactly that reason. It’s hard to even think about drugs or alcohol when you’re pushing yourself to run that extra mile or get through the next set of exercises at the gym.

Build a new lifestyle

Kicking an addiction involves much more than just quitting. You need to build a whole new lifestyle. It’s a wonderful opportunity to develop new habits that will become part of your life from now on. Getting exercise and taking care of your body by eating a healthy diet can form part of that – and who doesn’t want to be lean, toned and healthy?

You may also find that exercise opens up social opportunities. Join a running club or find a workout buddy. Take up a sport. Who says you can’t have fun while you exercise?

Tips for getting started

All of these benefits sound wonderful, but you can’t expect things to happen overnight. If you’re not already fit, you aren’t going to love exercise from day one. It’s going to be very tempting to skip your workout at times, and you’ll never get the best out of your exercise if you’re constantly stopping and starting.

  • Commit to at least three workout days a week. Four is better. Rest days are also important because they allow your body to recover between workouts.
  • Push yourself, but don’t overo it. A lot of exercise beginners overdo it. They run too far, use weights that are way too heavy for them and so on. Allow yourself time to become stronger and fitter.
  • Combine strength training and cardio. Running and cycling are great ways to get fit, but strength training is also important. Your muscles support your joints, so you’ll find that strength training will make you better at your cardio and reduce your chance of muscle and joint injuries. Stretching exercises are also really good for you, so if you can fit in a yoga class once a week or more, go for it!
  • Consider working with a trainer. If you’re a raw beginner, you will be unsure of how to approach exercise – and you can hurt yourself if you do certain exercises in the wrong way. Think about joining a class or getting a personal trainer to show you how to get started.

Get moving – you have nothing to lose!

Well, let’s qualify that statement: you may well lose some unwanted weight! But you can gain a whole range of other benefits too. Exercise is good for your body and good for your mind, so why not make that commitment to regular workouts and get started?

Stick to it! You won’t get obvious results right away, but three months down the line you’ll be amazed at the difference exercise has made.