Exercise Improves Physical and Mental Wellness for People in Addiction Recovery
It’s often forgotten that our brain is the source of our physical and emotional wellness. Our brain controls our feelings of pleasure, reward, our sense of balance and coordination. You know that seemingly natural ability you have to move your arms or legs, see the beautiful sky, or taste your favorite ice cream? Your brain controls all of that – but drug and alcohol abuse has the ability to destroy the part of your brain that allows you to naturally feel good; physically and mentally.
The effects of drugs and alcohol will take a toll on your overall wellness over time. Nick Goslin, the Alumni Recovery Support Services Coordinator for the Star of Lakeview Health, was once a promising football player before he started to abuse prescription pills (OxyContin, Vicodin, Adderall) his freshman year of high school, which lead to him trying heroin. “During my active addiction, my brain basically had one mission: get more drugs, use more drugs. I stopped caring about what happened to my body because I was so focused on my addiction.”
After a stint in jail, and multiple stays in rehab, Nick quit his heroin use for good, and regained his focus on self-care. He started to work fitness programs at his local gym with certified trainers to help him get his body back on track. “When I was in active addiction, I didn’t care whether I lived or died. Once I got clean and sober, I cared about living and wanted to take care of myself – the entire holistic side of recovery; mind, body, and spirit,” Nick explains. “Getting back in the gym was a lifestyle change, not just a diet or fad. I made the conscious decision to change old, bad habits and start new, healthy ones. It was important to me that along with working out, that I start to eat healthy again.”
Lauren Stobbie, the Health and Fitness Program Supervisor at Lakeview, explains why exercise is so important to those in recovery, especially in the early stages. “In early sobriety, exercise provides a new activity that is healthy and can be a positive way to fill the time previously spent using substances. Every week patients notice changes in their endurance, strength, and physical appearance, and this motivates them to continue. Establishing a regular exercise routine allows clients to set goals and experience the sense of accomplishment when they reach them.”
When people enter substance abuse treatment, more often than not, they’re experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, and other mood disorders. So how does going to the gym and working out help with these symptoms? “One example of that is repetitively slamming a medicine ball to the ground as hard as possible. This simple exercise has caused patients to break down mid-workout, but has shown to be an effective way for the trainers to process the emotions with the patient and show how exercise is a positive and beneficial way to express themselves,” Lauren says.
Besides all the positive mental and physical benefits of exercising in recovery, it has statistically been proven to decrease the likelihood of relapse. Lauren continues, “Exercise is a vital component of early sobriety and can lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle and successful recovery. Through their workouts, they are able to release endorphins and neurotransmitters, which can provide pleasurable states naturally without the use of alcohol or drugs. Exercise also allows our patients to heal and strengthen their bodies, and improve their body image and self-esteem.”