Often the addiction is not our main problem, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. If we are depressed, anxious or stressed, then as addicts, we will escape to our "drug of choice" - which in our case happens to be lust.Physical activity and exercise can be very beneficial in easing symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression, which go hand-in-hand with addiction. An imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain produces anxiety and depression. Exercise not only impacts endorphins (our feel-good hormones), but it also increases levels of serotonin and dopamine, creating more balance. This produces the famous "runners high," decreases anxiety, and provides an overall feeling of "calm."
We've all heard of the famous "12-Step" program for beating addictions. Exercise has been called by some experts "the 13th step" (see here). At all levels of the struggle/addiction, it is very important to engage in exercise and physical activities on a regular basis, at least a few times a week. Experience has shown that a consistent exercise regimen can be very helpful in combating addictive behaviors, and especially in dealing with the irritability and stress that are common withdrawal symptoms.
Exercising every day has been proven to positively impact an addict in many other ways as well. For example, in active addiction we can easily lose structure and meaning to our days, but exercise immediately provides this. Exercise fills time and keeps the mind busy. It has also been shown to boost self esteem and self-confidence. We will also find that the self-discipline required and learned through regular exercise spills over into other areas of our life and will help us make changes to our bad-habits. Exercise also positively affects sleep, cognitive function, craving, diet and weight. It improves the mind-body connection and reduces symptoms of illnesses and disease. Exercise also allows us to express our frustrations, disappointments, anger, and negative energy in a positive way, and makes us feel happier overall. People who exercise are more optimistic and happy than those who lead sedentary lifestyles.
Our physical self is an important part of our spiritual being. When we talk about recovery, spiritual principles, emotional health and those types of things, our physical body is a critical factor in the equation. The physical dimension of taking care of our body by getting enough sleep, good nutrition and especially exercise, adds a whole lot more to our "spiritual centeredness and emotional well being" than most people give it credit for. As the Pasuk says, "U'shmartem Me'od Lenafshoseichem - and you shall vigilantly guard your wellbeing". Our physical wellbeing is a vital part in our overall spiritual makeup.
Any form of exercise can help us boost our immunity to addictive tendencies, whether it's running, biking, walking or working out in a gym. Jumping on the treadmill or cross trainer for 30 minutes can be an instant way to blow off tension by boosting levels of "soothing" brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Research also suggests that burning off 350 calories three times a week through sustained, sweat-inducing activity can in many cases reduce symptoms of depression just as effectively as antidepressants.
With the countless benefits that it offers, let us all make it a habit to do a regular exercise. Some addicts spend a whole lot of money to cure addiction, but research has shown that exercise - which is free - offers the same results as therapy and antidepressants!
Let's make a commitment to start moving! We'll not allow ourselves to miss even one a day and we'll stick to our schedule. If we can only walk a mile at first, that is fine. Getting our heart rate up is what is beneficial. As we continue to exercise, we should be able to slowly increase the distance traveled or time spent exercising. Our target goal should be between 30 to 60 minutes, three times a week.
There is some sort of universal truth at work here regarding cause and effect. Often we convince ourselves that we are too tired, or that we don't have the energy to make a commitment like this and start exercising regularly. The only way to overcome this mindset is through action. Start moving your body and let the details get worked out later. We may not feel like jogging, but if we force ourselves to get out the door and hit the pavement, before we know it we'll be back home, breathing hard and feeling invigorated. In other words, we're not going to feel great some day and decide to go jogging or walking-it's the other way around. We have to get out there and do it, despite how we may feel, and then we will be able to look back and see how our new routine has energized our lives and made it so much easier to stay clean!