At Alpha sober house we believe in focusing the body as well as the mind and ‘spirit’ in our journey to sobriety and recovery. Many addiction treatment programmes seem to ignore this aspect completely. Many others pay it lip service, but have too little in the way of physical activity to enable clients to really get fit and healthy. However, if we are going to stay sober there are also risk factors associated with exercise, especially for people in early recovery. We will talk about these in this blog as well.
REDUCING DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Scientific research has linked running (and other intensive cardio exercise) with reduced rates of depression and anxiety. This is thought to work because intensive exercise stimulates neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells). The part of the brain where new cells develop is called the Hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain involved in learning. So it is thought that sustained aerobic exercise also helps stimulate the learning process. This is all good news for people in early recovery.
When we are battling addiction there are a seemingly endless list of new skills, routines and procedures that need to be mastered. One thing that helps with that is to be alert and focused. Running seems to help with that. Hiking does the same. It is unclear yet, whether HITs training (short bursts of high intensity anaerobic training with rest intervals) does the same thing. But the evidence backing up sustained aerobic activity seems to be solid.
This is why we tend to focus more on long, slow, walks, rides or runs. It’s about being out there in nature. It’s about feeling the sun on you and the joy of being on an adventure with a group of peers. It’s about the bonding experience more than it is about clocking times, or winning. We also enter races such as fun runs and triathlons and duathlons when we can.
TAKING PART IS IMPORTANT
A sense of achievement for people in recovery should not be dependent upon how fast or how athletic they are. It’s about having taken part. Of course we can use such events to challenge ourselves. And we can compete with others too. But this is where we get a good look at our ego from a closer perspective. Is our ego telling us to run faster than we can, meaning that we will be reduced to hobbling by the end of the race? Can we handle it if someone we know is doing better than we are?
Competitiveness is all well and good, but it’s something to keep your eye on in early recovery. In this sense, aerobic activities and especially races are a good way to root out those less helpful aspects of our personalities. In recovery circles we say “your ego is not your amigo!” How true.
There are so many things to see and hear when you are outside in nature instead of training in a gym. This is another one of the joys of early recovery. Here in Chiang Mai you can see an array of tropical trees, wildlife, temples and mountain views, as you increase your fitness on the bike or on your feet.
In the right doses, solar training (training in the sun) is a good idea too. It increases the production of natural melatonin (if done early in the day) which aids our sleep. Vitamin D and other crucial building blocks of health are provided by healthy levels of exposure to the sun. We usually go out early in the day. This ensures that we get the sunlight we need, without being exposed to the more damaging midday sun, which in Thailand can obviously be quite hot.
All in all, running, cycling and other forms of metabolic conditioning (aerobic exercise) like walking, are a very necessary addition to the recovery program for anyone treating their substance abuse or addiction problems. Too many people these days focus only on the gym, which often has more to do with vanity and body image obsession than it does being healthy or having a balanced life.