Racing for Recovery

The importance of exercise in the recovery process

Triathlete Todd Crandell, 39, has gone from being an alcoholic and crack-cocaine addict in his early 20s to a world-class athlete and has formed a group to show other recovery addicts that exercise can help them to battle their addictions.

Crandell, who is competing in his 12th Ironman World Championship this month, has written a memoir entitled, “Racing for Recovery: From Addict to Ironman,” and operates Racing Recovery, a foundation that organizes 5k races nationally with addiction recovery as their theme. Crandell and his foundation have been featured on CNN and The New York Times as well as other media throughout the U.S.

“There’s more to life than saying “I’m powerless over alcohol’ and “I’ve got to come to support-group meetings,'” said Crandell.

While most treatment programs emphasize counseling, more are starting to take alternate approaches by incorporating exercise as a component of recovery because it builds confidence and reduces stress, distracts from temptations, and teaches people in recovery to set and meet goals.

“We’re turning people who were heroin addicts, cocaine addicts, crack addicts into marathon runners,” said Peter Provet, the president of New York City’s Odyssey House, where program participants run in Racing for Recovery events; 15 residents are planning to run in the New York Marathon this year. “I really believe it’s a model for other treatment centers,” said Provet.

Researches from Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I. found that taking part in twelve weeks of aerobic exercise noticeably helped addicts stay sober; preliminary results show that the exercise group was two-and-a-half times more likely to remain abstinent than a control group that did not exercise.

“What we showed was when people are actively engaged in exercise, they are doing better,” said study leader Richard A. Brown, director of addiction research at Butler. “The question is how to keep them engaged.”

Other treatment programs embrace exercise but note that working it into a program isn’t easy when patients only stay for a few short weeks or months. Even in shorter-term programs, however, personal training and gym work have been used to help physically sick patients regain their strength.

It is important to remember that if you feel like a traditional treatment program may not work for you, it might be valuable to inquire into alternate methods of treatment that may be more effective.