The Pros and Cons of Exercise in Recovery

Some turn to exercise as a means release tension. And this can be particularly true for those who are in recovery from addiction. Exercise can help boost one’s mood, take the mind off obsessive thoughts, heal the body, and provide you with higher doses of dopamine and serotonin. In fact, recent research indicates that exercise is not only a means to treat depression but it can also prevent it. Of course, not every addict is depressed. But this research indicates how valuable exercise can be for one’s emotional and psychological health.

Physical activity can release endorphins, boost positive feelings, improve the health of the brain, and facilitate change that lasts – such as sobriety. However, there are some in the addiction and recovery field that recognize a danger of exercise among recovering addicts. Certainly for most people in recovery, exercise is a win-win. It’s a way to stay not only physically fit, but emotionally and even spiritually fit.

Yet, for some, exercise can become another addiction. According to an article in The Fix, Madhukar H. Trivedi, M.D. is researching both the pros and cons of exercise for those in recovery. The benefits to exercise are obvious, such as those listed above. Furthermore, exercise can improve mood, weight, sleep, and one’s overall quality of life. Trivedi believes that exercise can also trigger the nervous system to heal itself and improve memory.

However, his research has also shown that exercise releases neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, which are the same chemicals that are triggered with most drugs. It’s quite possible that some men and women who are recovering from drugs and/or alcohol may turn to forms of exercise for emotional stability but then find a possible replacement for their addiction. This may be particularly true for those who exercise in extreme ways and for extreme periods of time.

Furthermore, another study found that too much exercise can also be harmful. In this study, all participants were required to answer questions regarding their demographics, height, weight, socioeconomic status, sports injuries, and well-being. The quality of their well-being was determined by using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) index, whose scores fall between 0 and 25, with scores below 13 indicating a poor well-being.

The researchers found that participants who had low as well as very high physical activity were more than twice as likely to have poor well-being. At the same time, the results of the study indicated that those who exercised approximately 14 hours per week has the highest level of well-being. Of course, as already mentioned, exercise is a powerful form self-care because it has so many physical, emotional, and psychological benefits for the mind and body. However, too much exercise, as this study points out can be harmful.

If you’re in recovery and you find yourself exercising at extreme levels, perhaps it’s become another addiction. Perhaps the exercise is no longer helping you but harming you in certain ways. If this is the case, talk to your sponsor, others who are using exercise as a tool for sobriety, and perhaps a training coach, if you have one.

If you need additional assistance with staying sober or emotionally stable, contact a mental health provider for your safety.


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