How Exercise Affects the Brain (and Why it’s Good for Recovery!)

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Exercise is physically and emotionally beneficial for recovering addicts. It increases blood flow to the brain, boosts oxygen to the cells and prompts the body to heal itself. Physical activity also reduces stress, anxiety, depression and drug cravings. Incorporating exercise into your daily activities is something you can do right away. Start with simple exercises such as a walk through your neighborhood, a 20-minute jog around the track or a bike ride to your favorite park.

Let’s learn more about why exercise is good for the brain and how it helps with recovery.

Exercise and the Addicted Brain

When a person repeatedly uses drugs and alcohol, the brain undergoes structural changes. A biochemical imbalance takes place, which can result in insomnia, stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, mood swings and more. Also, some parts of the brain shrink with substance abuse, and endorphins take a dip. In order to get the brain back to normal, it needs to heal. One of the best ways for this healing to occur is through diet and exercise.

Here are specific ways that physical activity restores the brain.

  • Stimulation of new cells. The brain may shrink with drug and alcohol use, but exercise can help it grow new cells. For example, the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for memory and cognition) can grow new white and gray matter.
  • Increase in neurotransmitters. Exercise increases certain neurotransmitters that are responsible for reducing physical and emotional pain. Also, exercise creates a rush of dopamine that gives people a sense of euphoria, also known as “runner’s high.” 
  • Release of GABA. The release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is good for recovering addicts. It has a calming effect on emotions and muscle tissue. This helps people manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Aside from all the great benefits for the brain, exercise is also beneficial for the body. Exercise reverses damage to the body by lowering blood pressure, increasing smooth muscles, sending more blood flow to the organs and flushing toxins out of the liver and kidneys. All in all, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from exercise.

Advantages of Physical Activity in Recovery

The wonderful thing about working out is having no rules. Choose something you enjoy – a sport, running, swimming, dancing – and a time that is convenient for you. Ask a friend or use this time to be alone. Go outdoors, stay in the privacy of your home or join a class at the health club. Try something for 20 minutes one day and 30 minutes the next. This is something that YOU can take control of.

The benefits to exercise in recovery are:

  • Reduced drug cravings
  • Stress reduction
  • Increased blood flow
  • Increased white and gray matter
  • Sleep cycle regulation
  • Stabilized neuron network
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Increased muscle strength

At The River Source, treatment includes a variety of exercises such as swimming, tai chi and yoga. We feel that physical activity plays an important role in the healing process. To learn more about our holistic therapy programs, call us today.