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EXERCISE

&

ADDICTION RECOVERY
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Regular exercise and a solid fitness routine bring on plenty of benefits for the average
person, and its quickly becoming apparent that they can additionally play an important
role in recovery from drug addiction.
Despite the myriad benefits, 2011 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention report Americans in general are sorely lacking in exercise. Only 48 percent
of adults met the national Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic exercise and a scant 24
percent met the guidelines for muscle-strengthening workouts. Even fewer met both sets of
guidelines, with 24 percent regularly engaging in both muscle-strengthening and aerobic
activity.
The guidelines for aerobic exercise recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate
activity. Those for muscle-strengthening exercises suggest working all major muscle groups
at least twice each week.
America is not, on the other hand, lacking in people suffering from drug addiction.
Statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse say more than 100,000 people die
from illicit drug and alcohol abuse every year while tobacco is liked to about 440,000
annual deaths.
Combining exercise and fitness with those suffering from addiction may go a long way
toward helping to reduce the addiction stats, and studies have already shown the idea
is more than a just a theory. The National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2008 pledged $4
million to look into the effects of exercise on drug use. Studies from various sources are
underway or have already been completed, not all linked to NIDA but all pointing to the
same results:
Exercise can have a beneficial effect on the treatment as well as the prevention of drug
addiction.

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What Exercise Can Do to Help Drug Abuse and Addiction


A report published in the Frontiers of Psychology backed up the beneficial effects
of exercise by analyzing several studies. It additionally noted:
Any amount of exercise can be beneficial
Exercise can produce therapeutic effects in men and women
Early exposure to exercise can have long-term positive effects
on reducing drug abuse
Exercise can work even after long bouts of not exercising to
help quash a habitual pattern of drug abuse
Other studies and reports back up the power of exercise and fitness when applied to drug
abuse, outlining a variety of specific functions exercise can play in the role of addiction.

Reduces Cravings and Use


A study published in PLOS ONE combined heavy marijuana users with treadmills,
scheduling each user to 10 half-hour sessions over a 14-day period. After the two-week
study with exercise as the only intervention, the drug users experienced more than a 50
percent decrease in marijuana cravings and use.
Other drugs were put to task with similar results, the Denver Post reports. The Frontiers
in Psychiatry analysis noted that exercise worked to decrease abuse of a variety of illicit
drugs. Other studies noted by Slate.com showed exercise led to decreases in the use of
nicotine, cocaine and alcohol.

50%

Decline in marijuana
cravings and use in
study of pot users who
regularly exercised on
treadmills

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Decreases Effects of Drugs


Another bonus of regular exercise for those battling drug addictions is the ability
of exercise to decrease the effects of certain drugs. Tufts University psychology
professor and researcher Robin Kanarek found rats that exercised on running
wheels were less susceptible to amphetamines, morphine and nicotine.

Helps Repair Brain Damage


Another study, this one published in the journal Synapse, found that exercise can
also help after the fact, restoring brain cells damaged by intense drug abuse. This
study combined rats and methamphetamine, allowing the former to indulge in the
latter until the meth damaged their serotonin and dopamine receptors.
Researcher left a select group of rats caged and idle while engaging a second
group of rats in regular running sessions. While the caged and idle rats brains
remained damaged, the rats that ran showed improvement in their brains
affected receptors and reduced the amount of overall damage.

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Why Exercise Works to Help Drug Abuse and Addiction


One of the foremost reasons exercise can work to stave off and treat addiction is its
ability to produce neurological rewards. In other words, it can get people high. While
they may not experience the same type of high found with drug abuse, exercise has
been shown to release dopamine, a chemical known for improving mood.
The high alone, however, is not the only reason exercise and fitness are so effective
as part of a recovery program. CNN points out a lineup of other factors that may
contribute to the success of exercise and fitness in recovery.

Fills a Void
Entering recovery often means giving up many people, places and things to
deter chances of relapse. In some cases, this can translate to abandoning any
type of social life or friends a person ever knew. A new life of recovery can
start with a dearth of social support and a lot of free time, both of which can
be filled with a trip to the gym or joining an exercise group.

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Offers Structure and Routine


A daily dose of exercise helps establish a routine and set up some structure to
a life that may have long lacked both. Instead of waking up without drugs and
wondering what to do next, a regular exercise routine can serve as a means of
establishing new habits and focusing on a healthy way of living.

Serves as Coping Mechanism


Instead of picking up drink or drug to combat anxiety or stress, people can learn
to turn to exercise. Just like meditation, deep breathing or other tools people use
to cope with lifes daily woes, exercise can serve as a healthier outlet than the old
habit of coping through drug use.

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Gets People Back into Shape


One of the most obvious benefits of exercise is what it can do to peoples bodies.
Years of drug abuse can leave people severely depleted and out of shape, both
on the physical and mental levels. Exercise and a fitness routine can work as a
great fixer-upper for both, especially for those who are trying to lose weight, gain
muscle or bring a tired, depleted body back to life.
Richard Brown, addictions research director at Providences Butler Hospital,
conducted an exercise study on heavy drinkers. The study found exercise not only
prompted study participants to drink less but they also truly enjoyed the exercise.
They liked the fact that they were getting healthy and doing something for
themselves, Brown told CNN.

Reduces Anxiety and Stress


Regular physical activity has the ability to kick stress and anxiety
to the curb. MayoClinic.com credits this effect once again to
the brain chemicals that leave people feeling more relaxed and
generally happier.

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Boosts Self-Esteem
A side effect of exercise can be an increase in self-esteem, MayoClinic
adds. Increased confidence can come from the improved physical
appearance exercise typically produces as well as the general happier
state. Confidence and self-esteem can be at an all-time low after years of
drug abuse, especially if a person has hit rock bottom.

Promotes Better Sleep


xercise and a regular fitness routine can lead to better sleep, something
those early in recovery may be lacking. Brown points out that poor quality
sleep is a common issue among the newly sober and he theorizes those
new in recovery may seek out exercise as a way to get to some quality
slumber.

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Improves Thinking
Chronic drug abuse can have highly negative effects on the brain,
impairing thinking and other cognitive functions. Exercise has been shown
to improve that functioning. Brown again poses a theory that people in
recovery may turn to exercise as a way to help restore their brains to their
optimum potential.

Provides Positive Outlook


Exercise can not only help people think more clearly and sharply, it can
change the way they think. Former self-confessed drunk and current avid
runner Mishka Shubaly says exercise changed his entire view of the world,
which he outlines in his best-selling memoir The Long Run.
He notes that alcohol was the easiest way to tell the world to go fly a
kite, or the ultimate proclamation of I dont care. Exercise, for him, has
become the opposite. Its a means to show he does care, both about the
world and himself.
Doing the hard work of exercising totally reversed my worldview, he told
CNN. I went from a life that was headed toward one thing to a life of
nearly infinite potential.

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The Naysayers
The fact that exercise produces a high and can itself become an
obsessive habit doesnt sit well with some researchers. They hypothesize
exercise simply becomes a replacement for drugs, with people substituting
one addiction for another. Recovery circles label such a move as switching
seats on the Titanic.
Not all researchers would classify exercise addiction as being on the same
boat as drug addiction. Psychology professor Mark Smith told CNN the
two are an apples-and-chain saws comparison.
Smith notes drug addiction basically leads to widespread and lifelong
devastation, often finalized by premature death. An exercise addiction,
on the other hand, can result in improved health, boosted self-esteem and
maybe some joint problems when you get older.

The Bottom Line


Certain drug addiction recovery centers have begun to incorporate
exercise and fitness into their recovery programs, the Denver Post reports.
They may set up a fitness plan that people can use during treatment at the
center along with a take-home program to keep the exercise habit alive.
One more major benefit for exercise and a focus on fitness in recovery is
to engage in and reinforce the concept of self-care. Many who have long
suffered from drug abuse and addiction may have spent years ignoring this
concept, and exercise has shown its power to help restore both the body
and the mind.

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