Tool 6: Physical Activity
When we talk about recovery and emotional health, our physical body is a critical factor in the equation. Getting enough sleep, good nutrition and especially exercise, add a whole lot more to our "spiritual centeredness and emotional well being" than most people give it credit for. As the Pasuk says, "Venishmartem Me'od Li’nafshoseichem - and you shall vigilantly guard your wellbeing".
Often our addiction is fed by underlying emotional imbalances. If we are depressed, anxious or stressed, then as addicts, we will escape to our "drug of choice" - lust. Physical activity and exercise can be very beneficial in easing anxiety, stress and depression, which scientists tell us is often produced by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. 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 "runner’s high," decreases anxiety, and provides an overall feeling of calmness.
We've all heard of the famous "12-Step" program for beating addictions. Exercise has been called by some experts "the 13th step". At all levels of the struggle/addiction, it is very beneficial 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 in our days. Regular exercise fills time and keeps the mind busy. It has 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 change our bad-habits. Exercise positively affects sleep, cognitive function and reduces cravings. It improves the mind-body connection and reduces symptoms of illnesses and disease. Exercise provides a healthy release for our frustrations, disappointments, anger, and negative energy, and makes us feel happier overall. People who exercise are more optimistic and happy than those who lead sedentary lifestyles. 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.
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 (make sure it’s a kosher gym, or it can turn out to be more detrimental than beneficial to us).
Often we convince ourselves that we are too tired, or that we don't have the energy to make a commitment to 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 walking or 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 easier for us to stay clean.