Everyone knows that they are supposed to exercise to stay fit and healthy. Besides looking and feeling healthy, exercise comes with a wide range of physical benefits. These include weight control, lower risk of cancers, increased life expectancy, reduced risk of stroke and heart disease, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, plus increased muscle and bone strength.
Being active can improve your mood too. More and more it is forming part of mental health treatment plans. Doctors will advise patients to exercise to get their endorphins flowing. Endorphins are described as the “feel good” chemicals in our brains.
New scientific research and clinical trials are even providing evidence of how exercise can help keep you sober, ward off addiction and addictive behaviour. Study participants who are coping with alcohol abuse reported successful recoveries and decreased relapses simply from staying active.
It’s scientifically proven that just 25-60 minutes of aerobic exercise (at low, moderate or high intensities) can increase positive feelings of well-being. Research by the Idea Health & Fitness Association found that after four weeks of regular exercise clinically depressed patients reported positive mood changes.
At the gym, aerobic exercise (often referred to as cardio) machines are the treadmill, stair mill, rowing machine, elliptical and cycling or spin bike. More accessible options if the gym is not available include walking, jogging, yoga, biking, dancing and swimming.
The best aerobic exercise for staying fit and boosting your mood is running. You may have heard of the “runner’s high” caused when our body releases lots of endorphins. The recommended program to receive the full benefits of running is three times a week for 20-30 minutes per session.
Very few know that exercise can also work wonders on curving addictive habits. There are many addictive behaviours, from gaming and shopping to more dangerous addictions such as alcohol or drug abuse. These substance abuse addictions come with a lot of health-related dangers. Heart, liver, and brain damage can result from the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages. Even the increased risk of some cancers have been found from the effects of alcohol. But doctors are now recommending a physical activity as part of a treatment plan for alcohol abuse.
There are quite a few success stories of running aiding in the road to recovery and preventing relapse. Author Mishka Shubaly of the best-selling autobiography “The Long Run”, detailed his personal account of his journey into sobriety through ultra-running.
The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health study, “Aerobic Exercise for Alcohol Recovery” outlined six reasons why exercise is successful as a treatment plan for alcohol abuse. Researchers believe that exercise:
- Provides pleasurable states without the use of alcohol
- Reduces depressive symptoms and negative mood
- Increases self-efficacy
- Provides positive alternatives to drinking
- Decreases stress reactivity and improve coping
- Decreases urges to drink
Depression and alcohol abuse are often co-occurring illnesses for most people. In fact, one of the reasons for an alcohol recovery relapse is a depressed mood which leads to the inevitable temptation of having that extra glass of wine.
Running and alcohol both increase dopamine. But there is a cruel twist with alcohol… Over time the effects of alcohol on dopamine diminishes. Which causes the need to over-indulge to get the temporary mood enhance of alcohol.
Dopamine is a hormone that controls many functions of the brain. Memory, cognitive ability, reward signals, decision-making, pleasure, moods & behaviours, body movement and sleep are the main functions dopamine effects. Unlike booze, regular exercise naturally increases dopamine in a healthy way with long-lasting effects.
Another benefit of having an exercise programme for a recovering alcohol addiction is controlling weight gain. Substance abuse users often over-eat or binge while in recovery. Food acts to satisfy cravings for alcohol. Depression, which often co-occurs with alcoholism, can also cause binge eating.
Having a hard time getting motivated? Start off slow with incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Don’t overwhelm yourself with time limits and frequencies. If jogging once a week for 10 minutes is a comfortable level of physical activity for you try that starting point. And always consult your health professional before implementing any rigorous workouts or physical activity.
Try these quick tips
- Listen to music. Add your favourite tunes to your iPod while you jog around the block.
- Try a group activity. Try joining a fitness class or ask a friend to walk with you. Moral support can boost confidence.
- Make opportunities. Decide to walk that flight of stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.
- Have fun. There are a ton of ways to increase your physical activity. Find an exercise programme that you will enjoy.