The process of achieving sobriety is largely seen as a journey to restore your mental well-being. After all, long-term drug and alcohol abuse does both physical and psychological damage to the structure of the brain.
The health of the mind and the body are linked together in many different ways, however, and neglecting your physical health can actually hold back the mental portion of your recovery. Committing to a regular fitness routine comes with numerous benefits and can be a powerful factor in supporting sober living. Here are just four ways physical exercise can nurture mental wellness.
1. Improved Confidence and Self-Image
Low self-esteem is at least an exacerbating contributor to most cases of substance abuse and addiction, if not one of the root causes of it. Seeing the body transform and gradually increasing the ability to perform feats of strength and conditioning is a powerful means of improving self-image.
This doesn’t require building the physique of Wonder Woman or Superman; sticking to a basic fitness routine and seeing small and gradual improvements is just as helpful, and has the side benefit of also helping to restore a sense of discipline and regularity in your life. Having fitness goals also helps greatly in sticking to a healthy diet.
2. Improved Sleep
Substance abuse tends to create very irregular sleep patterns and throw the body’s natural rhythms out of whack. Naturally, a fitness routine will burn energy and make it easier to get to sleep on workout nights. But according to a scientific study, a regular workout routine actually appears to work on an even deeper level to restore the natural circadian rhythms that allow you to sleep soundly at night and wake up refreshed in the morning.
3. Exercise Helps Rewire the Brain
To put it in colloquial terms, addiction fundamentally rewires the “pleasure center” of the brain. Neuroplasticity is the term for the brain’s ability to repair this damage, re-orienting the brain’s structure to its natural state and gradually lessening the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that accompany a physical addiction.
There’s scientific evidence that exercise triggers and supports neuroplasticity in certain areas of the brain, including the decision-making and behavioral areas that are impacted by prolonged substance abuse.
4. Stabilization of Mood
A big part of battling addiction is constantly dealing with the intrusion of negative feelings, like depression and irritation. Evidence shows that regular exercise has a positive, stabilizing effect on mood. It makes you calmer, happier, and more easily able to focus.
Free or Cheap Exercise Options in Chicago
So, exercise clearly has a lot of benefits, but what if the place you’re living at doesn’t have enough (or any) equipment?
As far as cardio goes, all you need is a bike or your own two feet to take a nice ride or jog. The city has an amazing array of trails, which you can begin exploring from the Chicago Park District website.
If you’re coming off a long sedentary period, just remember to take it slow at first; it shouldn’t be painful, especially in the shin area. Also invest in some good, supportive sneakers if you plan to run on pavement.
Resistance training requires a bit of equipment to hit every major muscle group, but not much. Like most major cities, Chicago has “fitness trails” scattered about, which are jogging and biking trails that have periodic stations with equipment you can use for body weight resistance exercises. ParkGrades is a great place to find one near you.
If you feel like you need an instructor to stay focused, or you just like the social aspect of group workouts, the city also has a number of free sessions happening all over nearly every day of the week. A good starting point is this A Sweat Life column; also check for postings at the library, rec centers, and athletic equipment stores in your area. Don’t forget to check their websites for listings too!
Keep an eye on the blog for more recovery support tips, and feel free to contact us to learn more about how a sober living facility in Chicago can benefit you.