How Exercise Can Help You Beat an Addiction

Most treatments for addiction involve some kind of “talk therapy” or counseling and focus on helping the person with the addiction to figure out why they continue to engage in addictive behaviors, despite problems developing as a result, and more effective ways of managing the feelings that underlie addictive behaviors. While these approaches to treatment are helpful to many people with addictions, some feel they need an approach that helps with the physical, as opposed to the mental or emotional aspects of addiction. Others find that exercise helps with managing cravings, as a backup therapy to talk therapy. Set realistic goals for yourself and experiment with a variety of different types of exercise to see which best helps you overcome your addiction.

  1. Go for walk. Walking can boost dopamine levels. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that the brain produces when experiencing pleasure. When you engage in addiction behavior, your dopamine production increases – what’s why it feels good to “get high.” But you can also feel good by walking around the block or hiking in the woods.
  • Walking about can also produce new brain cell growth to replace the ones that were killed during your addiction behavior.

2. Do some strength training. Strength training basically involves lifting weights. Free weights, bench presses, and weightlifting machines can all help you burn fat.

How Exercise Can Help You Beat an Addiction And most importantly for you as an addict, strength training can help you adjust your sleep schedule. Addicts often suffer from insomnia due to their addiction. Strength training can help you reset your sleep cycle so that you get a good night’s sleep.

3. Try yoga. Yoga is a form of exercises that improves strength and balance. It also increases dopamine levels. Yoga can help you by making you less stressed, less anxious, more focused on overcoming your addiction.

  • Traditional yoga, which focuses on a series of strength-building poses and actions is helpful. But you might find restorative yoga useful, too. Restorative yoga incorporates meditation into the mix, helping you become more mindful and reflective on your own addiction experience, and helping you find ways to center yourself to fight cravings.
  • Look online or in the yellow pages for yoga centers in your area, or ask a friend for a recommendation.

4. Play sports with friends. Even if you don’t join a sports team, you can still play team sports. Find friends or family who don’t use drugs (or who won’t influence you to engage in addiction behaviors) and invite them to a game of soccer or rugby.

  • Finding ways to bond with others that don’t involve addiction can help you forge new relationships and feel more a part of society.

5. Manage your weight with exercise. One of the common side effects of quitting drugs or other substances is weight gain. In order to avoid this unhappy result, you should use exercise to keep your weight down. All you have to do is know how many calories you need, how many calories you’re taking in, and how many calories you’re burning.

How Exercise Can Help You Beat an Addiction

  • Talk to a doctor if you’re curious about whether or not you’re at a healthy weight. If you are, you should still exercise regularly, but you don’t need to adjust your weight.
  • If you’re overweight, simply calculate the number of calories you eat in a given day. You can do this by finding calorie totals in the nutrition facts label on the side of packaged foods, or looking up calorie values for fresh foods online. You could also get a fitness tracker like FitBit to help you count your calories.
  • To lose weight, the calories you take in each day must not exceed the calories you burn through exercise and other activities.
  • If you were a heavy drinker, you may find that you actually lose weight when you cut back.

ALSO READ: How Much Exercise You Need to Boost Your Mental Health

6. Exercise while breaking your addiction. Don’t use exercise merely to help you cope with addiction after you’ve already kicked your habit. Instead, incorporate exercise into your routine as one part of your addiction treatment program.

  • As you gradually begin to wean yourself away from your addiction behavior, exercise just before you feel that you are about to give in to your addiction cravings. You might be less interested in your addictive behavior if you go a long period without engaging in your addiction and then exercising.
  • For instance, go about 15 hours without smoking a cigarette, then run or ride your bike for 15 minutes.

7. Set realistic goals. Any effective exercise regimen begins with setting realistic goals. If you set unrealistic goals – for instance, running five miles each time you engage in your addiction behavior – you won’t be able to meet them. But if you set realistic goals based on an honest assessment of what you’re able to accomplish, then exercise can be a useful way to reaffirm a sense of self-control and self-confidence.

“Our results suggest that regular aerobic exercise could be a useful strategy for relapse prevention, as part of a comprehensive treatment program for recovering cocaine abusers. Further research is necessary to see if these results also hold true for other addictive drugs.”

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