By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.
Maintaining successful recovery from addiction requires a whole-life change. The way we think, cope and live our daily lives must completely shift from that which we knew in active addiction. Of course, we know this because addiction isn’t the only disease that requires a holistic transformation to achieve successful and lasting recovery. Diabetes—just one example—and the management or recovery process for persons afflicted requires similar lifestyle changes. One significant and constantly reiterated change is the implementation of physical activity.
Physical activity—as we know—increases blood flow, oxygen levels and improves the overall functioning of our bodies. Since active addiction takes a tremendous physical toll, it’s certainly important to heal and rehabilitate our physical bodies in recovery. Additionally and possibly even more importantly, physical activity has been shown to reduce stress. Since stress is one of the factors most identified in the why’s of active addiction and relapse, it is vital to our success in recovery for us to practice stress management and reduction.
As we know, many active addicts also have co-occurring mood disorders and other forms of mental illness. Dual diagnosis coupled with the stress of everyday life and the newness of sobriety typically compounds the difficulties of maintaining successful recovery. However, the stress-reducing power of physical activity can greatly assist in this effort, as well. For example, for those of us in recovery also diagnosed with anxiety experience an imbalance due to—in part—a depletion of B vitamins caused by excess stress. This depletion leads to anxiety and panic attacks. It is a cyclical effect. Therefore, reducing stress by increasing physical activity will assist in breaking that cycle and naturally provide us with a sense of balance.
Also with regard to balance and dual-diagnosis, physical activity has been shown to increase endorphin levels in the brain. This is significant for those of us in recovery also struggling with depression. Since this particular mood disorder is caused by an abnormally low level of one specific endorphin—dopamine, also known as our body’s natural happy drug—an increase in physical activity equates to an increase in dopamine, naturally balancing our brain chemistry and improving our mood.
Regardless of the existence of dual-diagnosis, physical activity is known to improve our overall health and vitality—something we neglected in active addiction. As such, we must find ways to become and stay physically active, through walking, running, biking, yoga, swimming or any other means possible. Not only will it improve our health, assist in repairing the physical damage we’ve done, balance our bodies and minds, but staying physically active will also provide us with opportunities for sober connections and activities, as well as a new method of healthy coping.