Tag Archive: exercise in recovery

  1. Endorphins and the Secret of Runner’s High

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    enorphins and the runner's highSedentary people often have a hard time understanding how intense physical activity can make them feel good. They see runners and other physically active people wincing, gasping for air, and walking slowly and painfully after an exercise session. They cannot answer the question, however, of why those physically active people return time and again to activities that look painful and uncomfortable to the sedentary observer. The answer is that intense physical activity can bring about a euphoric sensation known as “the runner’s high”.

    What are Endorphins?

    For many years, researchers have connected the runner’s high to increased endorphin levels that they saw in the bloodstreams of individuals who participated in high-intensity activities. Endorphins are natural painkillers that are released when a body experiences stress or pain. They are also released to reinforce enjoyable events, such as a good meal or sexual activity. Endorphins share certain chemical structures with morphine, and in some ways they create a similar effect. Yet recent research has revealed that endorphins in themselves are not entirely responsible for the runner’s high.

    Endorphin molecules are large and complex, and as such they do not pass easily between the blood-brain barrier. Individuals who do exercise have been found to have increased levels of another neurotransmitter, anandamide, in their brains, and that anandamide seems to lead to higher endorphin levels in their bloodstreams. Anandamide is a form of a cannabinoid that has a similar structure to the effective compound in marijuana. This does not suggest that exercising creates the same kind of high that can result from smoking a marijuana cigarette, but a body’s natural chemical reaction to exercise and the pleasurable sensations realized as a result of that exercise is such that the same pleasure centers and receptors are involved.

    The Secret of the Runner’s High

    The secret behind a runner’s high may very well involve a number of different factors. In addition to causing the release of endorphins, anandamides, and other feel-good neurotransmitters, exercising floods a person’s body with energy-inducing norepinephrine. Regular exercise helps a person to lose weight and to look and feel better, leading to improved energy levels and higher self-esteem. Individuals who exercise regularly can (at least in the eyes of sedentary individuals) have insufferable levels of energy and is coupled with bragging about various athletic feats. A distance runner can gasp through a race and walk gingerly for several hours or days after a race, but even before the pain subsides he is planning his next run to chase after the runner’s high. Science might not fully understand it, but regular runners vouch for the reality of what they experience.

    People who are dealing with depression or anxiety, or who are trying to break a drug addiction or alcoholism habit, might find that running or other vigorous exercise are the perfect tool to aid in their struggles. Because vigorous physical exercise can put a sudden strain on a sedentary person’s heart, he or she should not jump into a running program or other exercise regime without first consulting with a physician. Weeks or months can elapse before the first inkling of a runner’s high makes its appearance, but once it does appear, a person can get hooked on an active and healthy lifestyle.  


    For suggestions and more information on starting a running or exercise program,, please call Sustain Recovery Services at (949) 407-9052. Our staff can direct you to pursue the best path to start your own quest for the runner’s high.

  2. Martial Arts and Mastering Recovery

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    Martial Arts and Mastering RecoveryAddiction recovery counselors almost universally recommend that recovering addicts and alcoholics adopt a physical exercise program to assist in their attempts to beat addiction. Exercise programs that combine mental and physical training, such as yoga and martial arts, are well-suited for this purpose. Martial arts, in particular, will appeal to individuals who are interested in more immediate and faster-paced physical activity.

    Martial Arts and Mastering Recovery

    Multiple forms of martial arts are available to fit all levels and abilities. Recovery programs have incorporated karate, kung fu, muay thai, tae kwon do, and aikido for individuals who want a more aggressive program, and tai chi for more meditative individuals. When pursued regularly, each of these programs will help recovering addicts and alcoholics to regain their physical strength, improve their hand-eye coordination, and enhance their flexibility and balance, all while giving them the tools they may need to handle stresses in their lives that would otherwise drive them back to drinking or drugs.

    Instilling discipline is the common thread that runs through all martial arts programs. Individuals who are fighting addictions are often able to survive the physical withdrawal pains that they experience when they are going through detox, but later fall prey to the psychological addictive urges that make drugs and alcohol seem like the only option that is available to them when events in their lives turn sour. The mental discipline skills that are part of martial arts training increase an addict’s awareness of these subconscious urges, which will help him or her to reject those urges.

    Martial Arts and Mastering Yourself

    Martial arts will also instill a greater sense of confidence and self-esteem, both of which might be long lost in many recovering addicts and alcoholics. Addiction attacks an individual’s sense of self. Recovering addicts who experience relapses will suffer from a reduced self-esteem and guilt over their self-perceived inability to stay away from drugs or alcohol. Rebuilding that self-esteem and rejecting guilt feelings are important elements of preventing further relapses. The martial arts learning curve is steep and fast, and many practitioners find that the early stages of their progression through the martial arts ranks can quickly build their confidence in their abilities, not just in martial arts, but also in other aspects of their lives.

    A regular program of martial arts training will also alleviate the sometimes crushing sense of boredom that recovering addicts and alcoholics experience in their initial recovery stages. Those individuals can find themselves at a loss for options to fill their time or to entertain themselves away from drugs and alcohol, and they frequently go back to those substances for no  reason other than having nothing better to do. Martial arts will fill that void and refocus their energy into a more positive course of activities.


    Addiction recovery centers, YMCA’s and local martial arts training schools are available in most metropolitan areas. Recovering addicts who are interested in a martial arts program should first check with their physicians to confirm that they are physically capable of handling the initial demands of a martial arts program and for recommendations on how much physical activity their bodies can handle in their early recovery phases.

    For more suggestions on using martial arts to enhance your recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism, please call Sustain Recovery Services at (949) 407-9052.

  3. Exercise and Depression

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    Exercise and DepressionMarathon runners and other distance athletes are familiar with the concept of a “runner’s high”. Yoga practitioners strive for a sense of “being in the moment”. Professional athletes achieve high levels of performance when they are “in the zone”. Regardless of how it is characterized, the sense of well-being that accompanies physical exercise is an effective counter-balance to depression. Counselors and therapists are increasingly using exercise programs to treat depression and other similar psychological disorders.

    Exercise and Depression

    The physical benefits of exercise are well-documented. Exercise improves heart health and energy levels. It can lower your blood pressure, reduce your body fat, and improve your muscle tone and bone density. Physical activity also reduces perceived stress, boosts self-esteem, and leads to better sleep. When you feel good, you can better handle the adverse effects of depression.

    Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that create these benefits. Physical activity causes a release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters into your metabolic system that make you feel good. It also bolsters your immune system and reduces immune system stressors that can contribute to bad feelings. Exercising in group settings or classes will put you in a social environment that can improve your sense of well-being. At its most basic level, strenuous exercise can distract you from focusing on any bad feelings that might be holding you back.

    Exercise in Recovery

    This does not suggest that exercise can or should be a total substitute for other treatments, particularly if depression is severe  or is the result of a deep-seated psychological trauma. In these more extreme situations, exercise is an effective adjunct treatment that complements more traditional therapies. Even the smallest amount of physical activity, such as walking outside for ten minutes or doing light housework, can help an individual who is mired in a depressive mindset.

    Starting small and simple is a key to integrating exercise effectively into a therapeutic program to treat an individual’s depression, particularly if that individual has never participated in any exercise programs. An easy ten- to fifteen minute daily walk can provide a good foundation to increase physical activity to 30 minutes or more per day. A therapist who recommends an exercise program will want to remain vigilant to confirm that a person’s failure to follow those recommendations does not contribute to a deeper sense of failure and depression. Exercise should be treated as a reward and not as a mandatory event. It should also be scheduled into a person’s daily routine, rather than being left as something to do if and when an individual has time to exercise after a long day of job and family responsibilities.


    The number of individuals who suffer from mild depression has grown as society has become more sedentary. Physical exercise may not reverse this greater trend, but it can help individuals to regain some sense of well-being that may have gotten lost with the trend toward inactivity.

    For more information and suggestions on how exercise can help alleviate your depression symptoms, please call Sustain Recovery Services at (949) 407-9052.

The people at Sustain Recovery are truly passionate about their work. They put all their love, energy and spiritual strength in to it. They continue to support me today as I continue my ongoing journey in my personal recovery. I now have over a year of sobriety, my own apartment, a job, true friends and a support network that is always available to me. Although all that stuff is great, what matters most today is that I love myself and have the ability to love others. Thank you to all who had a hand and heart in Sustain Recovery

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