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Physical exercise is unequivocally one of the most important components of charting one's pathway to optimal health. Engaging in regular exercise also offers tremendous benefits in the realm of relapse prevention and long term sobriety maintenance. The health enhancement benefits of regular vigorous exercise are legend, in terms of dramatically improving cardiovascular endurance, allowing the release of accumulated stresses from the body, and promoting increased vitality and well-being.
Regular exercise can help fill the void that occurs in early treatment when use of alcohol and drugs is discontinued, while at the same time contributing to marked improvements in self-esteem, vitality and alertness. For clients in early recovery, regular exercise helps take the edge off stresses associated with early sobriety. For clients in later stages of recovery, exercise can play an important role in helping them embrace sobriety.
Whether a patient is addicted to alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, gambling, food, or nicotine, the neurological pattern that develops is the same. The pleasure centers in the brain become hypoactive after prolonged abuse, which in turn will require more focus to send messages that stimulate these centers. Nothing but the addiction seems to satisfy that reward center, and the brain is tricked into thinking that the addiction is necessary for survival.
One of the most important things exercise does is release endorphins, which are chemical cousins with synthetic morphine. Releasing your body's natural pain killers is one reason for that infamous "runner's high." The ability to do something that is within your own control builds a sense of self efficacy, something that's missing in individuals who feel powerless and helpless to control addictions.
Exercise simultaneously builds new neural networks within the brain, decreases cravings, significantly reduces withdrawal symptoms, addresses underlying depression and anxiety, and fills the void often left behind after addictive behaviors stop.
Not only is physical health enhanced during the rehabilitation stage, but psychological health, lifestyle behavior, self-perception, self-esteem, level of stress, coping mechanisms, and social support are also improved. Physical activity may become a viable (and healthy) replacement for compulsive drug intake habits that experienced addicts develop, and can essentially reinforce the same pleasurable physical experience that drug use once provided the patient.
Exercise provides an emotional sense of enjoyment and satisfaction after having accomplished a physical exercise; in exercise programs working with trained professional, recovering addicts may gain a sense of self-worth and better self-image. Exercise during rehabilitation and beyond has also shown to significantly decrease the potential for relapse. These benefits, among many other positive gains from physical activity, encourage recovered addicts' continued exercise practices and healthy mentalities after recovery.