With a patient having a substance use disorder (SUD) in the maintenance phase of medication assisted recovery, relapse prevention becomes more important over time. Many addiction professionals and persons in recovery offer personal stories as testimony to the value of exercise or physical activity – aerobic, resistance, stretching — as a significant healing component in terms of physical and mental benefits. Extensive studies show that even walking for 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week can produce substantial improvement in one’s health status. Emerging research suggests that exercise that revs up the heart rate can trigger brain changes that may help take the edge off cravings. In conversations with the patient positive messaging concerning physical activity as a part of a healthy lifestyle may be emphasized.
Exercise can give you a natural high to replace the artificial ones you have been chasing with substance use. A vigorous sweat session can cause the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids coming from drugs or alcohol use although endorphins are blocked by naltrexone; together, these “happy” biochemicals can produce a feeling of euphoria, making it easier for someone in recovery to cope with daily life. Exercise can even help alleviate depression symptoms because galanin, a chemical found in the brain during exercise, seems to diminish certain stress-related cravings. Exercisefills up your time in a good way with a structure or routine. Regular workouts at specific times may serve as a distraction or substitute for less healthy activities regarding substance use and force you to focus on what you are doing, to live in the present; additionally workouts may make it easier to keep boredom, stressful thoughts and daydreams about using substances again at bay. Exercise also helps to restore a normal sleep cycle. And your body heals faster when you’re well-rested. Exerciseheals your body and mindas regular workouts increase the number of new nerve connections in the brain, which helps it heal from the effects of substance use. Cardio exercise also boosts levels of nature's brain "fertilizer", a chemical known as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), that enhances growth of brain cells in the part of the brain involved with mood. Exercisebuilds self-confidence as you add more time and/or intensity to your regimen, you will see the physical and mental health benefits that come with it and you start to feel stronger and more competent in other areas of your life, including the ability to meet the challenges faced in recovery.
While exercise by itself is no cure for addiction, it can be a meaningful tool to help build (or rebuild) a healthy life. The 5A counseling model of brief interventions (Assess-Advise-Agree-Assist-Arrange) provides a clinical framework for this aspect of lifestyle management risk reduction. Exercise is Medicine®(EIM) is a global health initiative that aims to make physical activity a standard component of chronic disease prevention and management by enhancing patient outcomes through lifestyle Interventions. It encourages the provider to assess physical activity at every patient health visit and to provide patients the tools necessary to strengthen healthy physical activity habits that can last a lifetime. EIM is committed to the belief that physical activity promotes optimal health and is integral in the prevention and treatment of many medical conditions.
The websites below describe and explain the types of physical activity and health benefits, recommendations/guidelines for the kind and amount of exercise, how to start and improve an exercise program, and resources to learn more about physical activity for providers, patients, and the general public. The Amador Recovery Project offers an adjunctive therapy for physical activity with substance use disorders (SUD). It is called Movement as Medicine (MAM).