Exercise is the most consistent and reliable anti-depressant and anxiolytic that we have in recovery. What type of exercise we choose to do and for how long is negotiable, but we have to do something every day - something that gets that heart rate up!
That miraculous human body. It is our home and our temple and for better or worse, it is the vehicle we'll be traveling around in until they lower us into the ground.
Many people come into recovery with a physical body that has been at best neglected for many years and at worse seriously injured. It is my belief that if the body is not respected and restored, a successful recovery will be difficult if not impossible to sustain. This has nothing at all to do with how the body looks! Exercise is the safest way to release endorphins which make the body feel better, and a body that feels better is much more likely to go along with all of the other recommendations.
Some good news for the person who likes quick pay-offs from their hard work (I think all of us!) is that if you have neglected physical exercise for a long period of time, it won't take much for you to start noticing the improvements. You will start off slow, of course, and not strain beyond your own capacity, but almost everyone we work with experiences noticeable changes almost immediately. They report being less anxious throughout the day, more clear-headed, less daytime fatigue, better sleep.
Although all twelve rules need to be considered and 'checked off' every day, Reaction Recovery focuses heavily on exercise and nutrition. It is not the whole story, but they are a very big, foundational part. Attaining physical health and well-being is the foundation of a successful recovery and an integral part of achieving peace and contentment. Coming from a place of poor health, this sometimes seems like an impossibility, but we promise that for nearly everyone ambulatory and able, it is not.
To have a successful recovery, we need to begin treating ourselves like we are someone of value and are worth saving. Many addicts enter recovery with intense self-loathing, absent of any hint of genuine self-worth. The first step in the recovery process is choosing to end the chemical dependency, which is to say a decision to choose life. In choosing life, we're also choosing to care for that life in the best way possible. This begins with the body.
Exercise triggers the body to release the feel-good neurotransmitters that the brain needs to thrive, and those which the typical substance abuser is greatly lacking: serotonin for mood and sleep regulation, dopamine to trigger the pleasure center, and nor/epinephrine for focused energy. Additionally, other proteins like Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) are produced which improve cognitive fitness to help one think clearly and improve mental processing abilities.
The neurochemistry of a recovering addict takes a long time to re-balance, and it seems that nothing can speed up the process as naturally or reliably as regular daily exercise. This is absolutely non-negotiable. The type of exercise you choose will vary based on your fitness level, physician restrictions, or personal preference, but the commitment to the routine needs to be made and taken seriously. A good rule of thumb is any activity that gets the heart rate up for at least twenty-thirty minutes per day.
When we speak with people in recovery whose bodies are relatively healthy, we will bring up exercise almost immediately. In fact, the willingness to consider establishing a routine (at first this is just a few minutes per day) in our experience often runs parallel to his seriousness to recover.
On the road to recovery, there is no standing idle. We are either moving forward towards health and wellness or sliding backwards into sickness and disease. Establishing physical health can be considered the keystone in a successful arch to recovery freedom. When the body is operating in a state of well-being, it stimulates a general sense of optimism and enthusiasm throughout the body that pour through in other areas of one's life.
The stress of everyday life takes a toll on the body. Chronically tensed muscles can lead to injury, headaches, and muscle cramps. A racing heart and elevated blood pressure are often followed by a mental crash leading to fatigue, exhaustion, and lack of mental clarity. Exercise reduces these effects and offers immediate benefits to the whole individual. The resting heart rate declines, mental acuity sharpens, bones and muscles strengthen, the immune system heightens, weight stabilizes, and overall energy levels improve. It is literally one of the best things you can possibly do for yourself.
As long as the heart rate elevates during the activity and you are enjoying yourself to a degree (it is very hard to sustain a new routine that one does not enjoy), how you want to exercise it up to you. You can walk, run, swim, do yoga, weight training, bike riding, jogging, cross-fit... - whatever your little heart desires. But you MUST do something. Again, non-negotiable!
My personal routine consists of a rotation between plyometrics, yoga, weight training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Often times I will begin a workout mentally and physically fatigued from the day and after a very short time will feel a renewal of motivation and mental clarity which propel me through the end of the workout.
I am able to accomplish this from home (25-45 min daily) using an online program with about thirty on-demand workout programs that can be streamed online. I follow specific preset workouts which are designed to keep the heart rate up throughout the duration and make most efficient use of the time. Besides muscular strength (which will come as a by-product of more disciplined nutrition and high intensity workouts), there is a focus and clarity that is associated with physical exercise that is hard to get anywhere else.
I use a smart watch to monitor my HR and total calories burned to provide a reference to compare total calories burned to my estimated total calories consumed. This is part of the daily accountability that helps keep me "fit to recover" (FTR).
The clinical literature varies on this one, but I have found that 25-45 mins every day seems to be perfect. Today, there are so many programs available in the convenience of one's own home, that the age-old excuse of not having enough time is no longer a good one (if it ever were a good one!) I have two toddlers at home and have still maintained a regular, daily exercise routine. Just like I was never too busy to obtain my drugs of choice during active use, I don't use that as an excuse not to stick to the regular routine (daily!!).
If you are just adding an exercise routine into your life or have been at it for years, be sure to stretch or do a light warm-up before beginning each session to avoid muscle tightness and injury. Avoid bouncing during the stretch and do not try to compete with someone else or the instructor - stretching should not feel painful.