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Physical Fitness is really Mental Fitness

Withdrawals. Detoxing. Craving. Feeling extremely uncomfortable. Early recovery (the first 30-90 days) is not the most inspirational to be physically active. In fact, early recovery feels more like the opportune time to do nothing but eat, group therapy, and sleep. Unfortunately, in most treatment programs, some form of physical activity is included. Gym time, personal trainers, yoga, walking, hiking- it seems like “those people” are determined to make you move. As with everything in early recovery, there is a purpose.

Physical Fitness is really Mental Fitness

Physical activity in early recovery isn’t really about the physical fitness. Of course, there is physiological benefit to exercise. Getting in a good sweat gets your heart rate going, opens up your sweat glands, and helps you detoxify residual junk from your drug of choice. Exercise is also proven to improve your mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. Substance abuse affects the brain on a very intimate level, right down to the neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are communication messengers in the brain. One such transmitter called dopamine communicates pleasure. Alcohol, cocaine, and just about every abused substance creates a surplus of dopamine production, acclimating the brain to a very excited way of life. In early recovery when we’re stripped away from those substances, our brains have a very difficult time producing dopamine on its own. In fact, it is the act of substance abuse itself which creates this situation. Chemical dependency on drugs and alcohol is the result of the brain relying upon the presence of substances to produce that overload of dopamine. Consequently, in early recovery, there are many feelings of depression, irritability, low mood, and lethargy. Physical activity helps with that.

Physical activity also helps boost short-term brain function and heighten awareness, according to this Medium author. It also helps in defeating the most defeating part of the early recovery experience: being uncomfortable. There is little feeling as victorious as completing an exercise activity you absolutely did not think you could. At the onset of recovery, there is a lot of doubt. We are sometimes convinced for certain that we won’t make it. We can’t stand another detox and get through another 6 months of uncomfortable feelings. On another level, there are days we don’t think we can make it through anything at all. Exercise is a living metaphor that we can – and we will – get through it, and we grow in the process.


Enlightened Solutions incorporates yoga, exercise and other kinds of physical exercise as part of a holistic program of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. We offer a unique approach to recovery, fusing 12 step philosophy with holistic methods of treatment. For more information on our programs call 833-801-5483.

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