The Benefits of Exercise During Recovery
The evidence in favor of exercise's benefits for recovery is clear - exercise can reduce cravings, improve mood and increase self-confidence, improving the odds of finding lifelong freedom from addiction.
Researchers at Vanderbilt found that after ten 30-minute sessions on a treadmill over a two-week period, heavy marijuana users were able to cut their cravings and cannabis use by more than 50%. Exercise decreased drug use among methamphetamine, amphetamine, and cocaine users in a 2011 study in the journal of Frontiers in Psychiatry. Exercise lowers levels of a protein in the brain associated with drug cravings. Exercise also releases "feel-good" endorphins, which are similar to the effects of drinking or using drugs. Exercise can improve mood and can help people struggling with clinical depression or a case of "the blues" - which is a common experience in early recovery, and can be a known relapse trigger.
In fact, "dual diagnoses" such as major depression and other mood disorders may co-occur with addiction and in many cases may be the root of a substance abuse habit. The good news is that research shows vigorous exercise increases the production of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, lifting mood and relieving symptoms of depression. Consider that exercise can act as a buffer from relapse, while helping to replenish those positive neurotransmitters.
Addiction can rob its victims of a healthy sense of self, which can hurt any efforts at recovery. The confidence boosts that exercise provides has little or nothing to do with how fast you run, how many miles you swim, or whether you're able to bench 200 pounds. Simply exercising regularly is enough to help boost your self-confidence, according to 2009 findings at the University of Florida. Just the act of exercise is enough to improve your self-image!
The bottom line? For people in recovery from addiction - here's one more compelling reason to make exercise a regular part of your lifestyle.