A number of beneficial lifestyle changes can be made to help a patient through the recovery process and beyond. Taking up exercise and/or participating in physical therapy is one such change, and can be highly effective. While unlikely to be able to treat substance abuse problems on their own, physical therapy and exercise are gaining interest as supplementary forms of therapy. Some benefits of exercise are well-known, such as losing weight and building muscle. But what does it have to offer addicts in particular?
Prolonged substance abuse damages and weakens the body, and physical activity helps to restore a recovering addict's strength and improve their overall health. It can even help the brain form new nerve connections and repair some of the damage done by substance abuse. In addition to these physiological benefits, patients gain a sense of empowerment and accomplishment as they see - and feel - themselves getting stronger, which helps boost confidence and keep them motivated.
Physical activity offers a number of other benefits as well. Exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that provide a natural "high" that can help to replace artificial highs generated by substance abuse. Of course, this high will not be as strong as those the addict achieved with substances, but it can help ease them into a clean, drug-free lifestyle. It also helps reduce stress, relieve pent-up emotions, and improve one's overall mood. Additionally, physical activity improves sleep and helps to boost the immune system, both of which are major concerns for those recovering from various substance abuse. More about the importance of sleep can be found in a later section
Perhaps one of the most important benefits conveyed by physical activity is that it helps to fill the hole that addiction once occupied. It helps keep patients busy, give them goals to work towards, and generally distract them from stressful thoughts and the temptation to relapse. It helps increase their physical health as well as encouraging them to make changes to their lifestyle and choose to pursue healthy activities rather than harmful ones.
Any form of regular physical activity can be helpful, even if it's just going for a daily walk. It's a good idea to start small and work your way up into more lengthy or rigorous forms of exercise so that you don't become overwhelmed or accidentally hurt yourself. It is worth noting that in some cases, exercise can itself become an addiction. Watch your exercise habits, and if you find yourself obsessing over your regimen, progress, etc., take a step back and talk to someone about it.