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Running Away from Addiction - the Role of Exercise in Recovery

Interestingly, exercise has been shown to improve mood and protect against depression. Depression and Addiction often go hand-in-hand. In fact, one in three people who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse, also suffer from depression. Depression is often seen as the ‘gateway’ to alcohol or drug abuse. Addiction or substance abuse may begin with self-medication in individuals suffering from depression. Unfortunately, each can intensify the symptoms of the other. Depression may lead to heavier substance use, and substance use may aggravate the symptoms of depression. This creates a cycle of depression and substance use, which is difficult to break.

Interestingly, exercise has been shown to improve mood and protect against depression. Stress releases a chemical in our bodies, which induces symptoms of depression when it enters the brain. However, when we exercise this chemical is inhibited from entering the brain, thus protecting us from symptoms of depression. Right after a bout exercise mood is significantly improved. Furthermore, frequent exercise leads to general improvements in overall mood. Therefore, exercise improves mood in the short and long-term, as well as having protective factors against depression.

Not only does exercise protect against depression, but it can also aid in recovering from an addiction. Exercise releases dopamine in the brain—the same chemical which is released by many drugs. Through the process of drug abuse the brain’s ability to produce natural dopamine is decreased. Therefore, once drug abuse stops dopamine levels in the brain are abnormally low. However, exercise has been shown to return dopamine levels to pre-abuse levels.

Not only does exercise help to recover normal brain chemistry but it also helps to create a new routine, taking your mind off of substance use. Withdrawal is known to upset regular daily rhythms, such as sleep/wake cycles. Exercise may help with restoring a balance to these daily cycles. Further, a set schedule for exercising throughout the week helps to avoid slipping back into a pattern of substance use. Finally, exercise promotes the growth of new neurons in the brain, assisting in the recovery from addiction.

Searidge offers many opportunities to participate in physical exercise. Team sports such as soccer are available at Searidge, offering not only the opportunity for exercise but also team building and creating relationships with others going through the same process. Yoga, long walks and runs in Annapolis Valley and through the Bay of Fundy, as well as swimming, hiking and snowshoeing are some of the opportunities to exercise at Searidge Foundation. Gym time is also offered several times a week. At Searidge these activities are integrated into the recovery process. By incorporating exercise into the recovery process it becomes a natural part of your new, addiction-free life. Maybe you can run away from an addiction after all.

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International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Association for Addiction Professionals National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers The Canadian Positive Psychology Association Better Business Bureau