When we exercise, we may do so for a variety of reasons - to lose weight, to feel better, to de-stress, to feel faster, leaner and sharper.
It is well-known in addiction research that exercise can increase endorphins, which help take the edge off withdrawal symptoms and elevate mood.
In other words, movement is a core component of every human beings health. When we were kids, we would spill over with energy and zest for life - like we were in a room without ceiling. We needed not be told what was good for us, we were so connected to our body, mind and soul, that we instinctively did what felt good. When we move our body, we tap into our wisdom that is stored in our physical body.
Addiction is a hunger for happiness, for wholeness, for meaning.... for something more.
A longing for that ease of being as most of us to some degree remember from when we were kids.
To get back into this flow of life, we need to find ways of de-stress from the challenges that adult life present us with. Unfortunately, many of those ways we choose as coping mechanisms, when we are adult, only serve to numb us out and create further stress and destruction in our lives. This is why it is essential to understand that even though exercise is a crucial element of recovery - you want to focus on types that do not put you into a fight-or-flight mode. When we exercise for long, intensive periods such as running, we experience oxidative damage - look at marathon runners. Look at how old they usually look - in spite of often healthy eating habits and no drugs - they are exercising in ways that severely stress out their nervous system and their body simply cannot cater for the cortisol output.
This is also why we often see ex-addict that go back and forth between extreme sports and drugs. Their body is so used to only acting under stress, that they simply exchange one stress-inducing behavior for another. This may seem like a good way around drug addiction - the thing is, that when we keep that pathways in our brain alive, relapse becomes way to easy - especially when we tire of running or get an injury. Then we are left with loads of time and can't engage in our substitute addiction.
This is a more common scenario, than you might think
How should you be exercising to REDUCE stress then?
Basically, any type of exercise that requires mouth breathing for more than short intervals will put your body in a state of stress.
Research has shown that nose-breathing increase alpha waves, thereby increasing rationale thinking, cognitive performance and lowering stress and blood pressure.
In comparison, mouth breathing increase beta waves, thereby activating stress and puts our brain in a reptilian state of being. You can imagine how good the consequence and impulse-control system is of a person in a reptilian state of mind -- very, very bad. However, note that short bursts of intensive mouth breathing exercise such as 1 minute sprints alternated with 1 minutes walking for 20 minutes, helps to rebalance stress tolerance level. Visualize a lion - short intense spurts with long rest. Whenever you go beyond short alternate training, you begin to put your body in chronic flight-or-fight mode which will be counterproductive for any recovery, mental or weight goals that you may have.
Chronic fight-or-flight mode is where relapse, rage and drug overdose, and binging behaviors for that matter, happen.
Remember that when your body is under stress - whether physical or emotional - it will quickly enter weight-loss resistance zone and increase cravings.
5 Types of Exercise Proven To Reduce Stress, Cravings + Relapse
- Kundalini + Hatha style yoga
- Pilates, ballet, dancing
- Material arts
Basically just choose an exercise which is similar to kids play - shorter busts of mouth breathing with more nose-breathing. So marathon running or boot camps are out - both are incredibly stressful for your central nervous system. Choose exercise that has an element of play in it for you. Because at the root of addiction is always a hunger for being that carefree, happy kid where life is flowing. And whenever we refuse to listen to that inner kid, we end up compensating, self-destructing, disconnecting and numbing out from life. No willpower can make up for disconnecting to our inner needs.
References: N. Drca et al. Atrial fibrillation is associated with different levels of physical activity levels at different ages in men. Heart, 2014 E. Guasch, L. Mont. Exercise and the heart: unmasking Mr Hyde. Heart, 2014 Aging (Milano). Exercise, free radical generation, and aging. Fielding RA1, Meydani M. Feb-Apr;9(1-2):12-8 1997