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The Exercise Factor: How it Helps Recovery

People Exercising

By Christa Bannister

It’s no secret that working up a good sweat regularly is recommended for optimal health, whether it’s through walking, strength training, Zumba, goat yoga, or something else fun. But what may be surprising is how much the simple act of moving your body can have on your brain function and overall mental well-being.

And the good news is, you don’t have to be a marathon runner, gym rat, or triathlete to reap the benefits. Studies show that setting aside just 30 minutes a few times a week to exercise can significantly boost your mood through the release of endorphins. These feel-good chemicals also make a notable difference in wellness and recovery.

For those who struggle with depression or anxiety in particular, incorporating physical activity into your life can help improve self-esteem, body image, and alleviate symptoms according to research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

There are additional wellness benefits if you’re able to take your workout outside. Being exposed to nature, along with soaking up some nourishing Vitamin D, has proven to bring about many positive effects on physical and mental health.

How Movement Assists in Recovery

Woman Doing YogaFor those who struggle with addiction, the burst of dopamine they crave is derived from illegal substances, alcohol, an overabundance of food, or risky sexual practices. In an effort to divert or diminish those cravings, exercise for addiction recovery has proven to be helpful.

Incorporating recovery activities — like a team sport, cycling, or mindfulness-based practices, including tai chi and yoga — contributes to a healthier lifestyle and in many cases, long-term maintenance of recovery for those who struggle with dependency issues. For those who have abused alcohol in particular and struggle to get to sleep without having the requisite nightcap, regular exercise can help reboot the body clock.

Those who break a sweat also benefit from better sleep quality and increased concentration, two wellness and recovery benefits that abusing substances or alcohol often rob from a person.

Exercise for addiction recovery is also known to boost creativity for up to two hours after your workout is complete and promote accountability and added motivation when you team up with someone or participate in group exercise activities. This sense of community and connectedness is helpful to staying on track, especially on days when working out doesn’t feel all that appealing.

A Key Element for Health and Recovery

In a recent report titled “Move Your Mental Health,” a comprehensive overview of more than 30 years’ research published by the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation, the role that exercise plays in health and recovery was determined significant. To wit, 89% of published peer-reviewed research between 1990 and 2020 concluded that regular physical activity had a positive overall effect on mental health.

Exercise and physical activity may play a protective role by not only reducing risk for mental illness, but helping to sustain mental wellness over time.

Noting how physical health and mental health are interconnected, an active lifestyle is cited as one of the “key elements” in the ecosystem of factors that provide emotional and mental balance. In addition to aerobic exercise being connected with less stress, higher self-worth, and a richer quality of life, evidence suggests that working out helps alleviate symptoms for someone who struggles with anxiety disorders.

Additionally, for those dealing with severe mental illness including schizophrenia, moving your body regularly has shown to help with being withdrawn and dealing with emotional numbness.

While there is no magical formula regarding the optimal type of exercise, duration, or intensity level for maximum health and recovery, there were a few intriguing insights in the report, including:

  • High-frequency exercise three to five times per week was better at reducing depression symptoms than low-frequency exercise once a week
  • Alternating or combining strength/resistance training with cardiovascular/aerobic exercise shows stronger mental health benefits than prioritizing one exclusively
  • Mindfulness-based practices such as yoga, while lower intensity, can deliver better mental health benefits than walking
  • Team sports, cycling, and gym exercises were reported as the top three types of physical activity associated with 20% fewer “poor mental health” days per month
  • Exercise and physical activity may play a protective role by not only reducing risk for mental illness, but helping to sustain mental wellness over time

Hope for Those Struggling With Addiction

Are you or someone you love struggling with substance abuse or addiction to alcohol? We at The Meadows Texas can help with our comprehensive, co-occurring treatment that features cutting-edge options customized to your specific needs. Don’t wait to get the help you need. Reach out with your questions, and we’ll help you take the first steps toward healing and wholeness.