At Foundation House, we incorporate a morning walk and yoga into our program which is a requirement for clients who enter our facility. Some clients ask why, some don’t ask at all. The reason is surrounding the theory that individuals who engage in regular aerobic exercise may be less likely to relapse and continue with drug-seeking behaviour.
We integrate basic fitness into program as a form of meditation in motion. The minor concentration that someone places on the physicality of walking or yoga allows them to experience psychological and emotional benefits of meditation – even on the move. There is a release of endorphins throughout the body when you engage in exercise; related to a similar feeling when using drugs/alcohol/gambling.
Research has shown that daily exercise, even for only 30 minutes, can reduce stress significantly over time. A chemical found in the brain (known as Galanin) considerably increases during and after exercise which has been shown to diminish stress-related cravings. “Several studies have shown that, in addition to these benefits, aerobic exercise has been effective in preventing the start, increase and relapse of substance use in a number of categories, including alcohol, nicotine, stimulants and opioids,” says Panayotis Thanos, PhD, RIA senior research scientist. “Our work seeks to help identify the underlying neurobiological mechanisms driving these changes.”
Although we believe minor physical exercise is important to stay clean, it is not the only thing. It can be added to the recovering addict’s toolbox to be used when appropriate. Exercise can become an addiction in itself – a distraction. When we find that we need to go to the gym for over an hour more than once a day, or walking for long distances for hours at a time; it can become an issue. Maybe we’re avoiding something. It might mean that there’s something going on in our lives that we find too stressful to deal with right now. Simple 30 minute walks, a shorter gym session or even a yoga session can prove to alleviate a stressful environment and help that person get through today, without focusing too much on the future.