One of the best recovery tools that does not get its rightful due in the debate among the popular treatment options is exercise. Hundreds of studies have found a positive link between exercise and reducing depression, the most recent coming from Sweden which found that well-trained skeletal muscles may provide the brain with an edge over stress, and ultimately engender protection against stress-related depression.
There have been a few studies done on exercise and the treatment of addiction. A 2009 study in Pathophysiology Journal showed treadmill exercise reduced morphine use in male rats. And in 2011, a study in the journal Current Neuropharmacology demonstrated animals’ preference for saline over amphetamines when they exercised.
Exercise releases endorphins and boosts serotonin levels. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain medication. They interact with human opiate receptors, which reduces your perception of pain. Serotonin are hormones responsible for mood balance and are the targets for widely used anti-depressant medication like Celexa, Lexapro and Zoloft. Less pain, better mood and all natural? That should be a no-brainer for any alcoholic/addict right?
Since I entered recovery about 3 years ago, I’ve put on a bunch of weight and I’ve not been feeling very good about my physical appearance which has affected my mood and self-esteem. While I go to the gym a few times a week and have taken up cycling, I haven’t found a consistent exercise regimen to take off the extra weight and get back to my “fighting” shape.
That has changed since I joined Title Boxing Club and participated in their intense boxing training workouts 3-4 times per week. The 60 to 75 minute classes are INTENSE even for the most in-shape person, but anyone can do them and you are free to modify the workout to lessen the intensity.
It’s a group class lead by a real amateur boxer/trainer centered around the scores of heavy bags hanging from the workout ring. Your hands are protected with real boxing wraps and you are provided with big, thick heavy bag boxing gloves. (New member deals often include a free set of wraps and nicer gloves). The first 15 minutes is a “warm-up” with jumping jacks, simulated jump roping, lunges, mountain climbers and shadow boxing. I am usually in full sweat 5 minutes into the warm up. The next phase is the boxing, with 8-12 “rounds” of punching combinations on the heavy bag with one minute active rest periods. Jabs, cross, hooks, uppercuts, bodyblows, 3-4-5-6-7 punch combinations, ending with a 30 second punch out as fast and hard as you can. The workout ends with 15 minutes of real boxing abdominal and core work, with punching sit-ups, leg lifts and planks followed by stretching.
Talk about stress relief. I am literally punching aways all my stresses and resentments in one session! The group format and trainer also motivates me to workout much harder than a normal gym workout. My competitive juices start coming out! There is also a group camaraderie with the sessions (sound familiar to AA folks?). I can feel the endorphins and that workout “high” for hours after a boxing training session.
After several months boxing, I’ve lost about 15 lbs, and can definitely notice a change in my body type as well as mood, energy and sleeping. My alcohol cravings have also gone down. When I have had a particularly tough day or when I feel depressed or anxious, hitting the bag for an hour always puts me in a much better frame of mind. In fact, when I don’t box or work out, I feel crappy.
As you can see, I highly recommend boxing as part of my recovery program. Of course, you don’t have to do boxing, just get out there and exercise and it will help!