There’s a reason they call it addiction recovery: your body, mind, and spirit all have major healing to do. And while you shouldn’t rush into any marathons, starting some kind of fitness routine can help keep your sobriety on-track and promote healing both inside and out. Best of all, there are endless options no matter your athleticism or interests that all have amazing benefits.
In this guide, you’ll discover all the ways’ fitness can play an important role in your addiction recovery, as well as which activities can maximize the health benefits. Whether you implement a formal exercise routine or simply find ways to lead a more active life in general, working on your physical health is an important part of the healing process.
**Always consult your physician before diving into a serious exercise regimen, especially if you have any medical conditions in addition to or resulting from your addiction.**
The Benefits of Getting Fit in Your Recovery
It’s no secret: recovery is hard. Even when you’re totally committed, cutting substances out of your life for good comes with all kinds of stress on both body and mind. Your body has to learn how to function in sobriety, and might even go through painful withdrawal symptoms while you detox. All the while, your mind is screaming that you need your drug of choice, that you can’t live without it. It can leave anyone to feel frustrated and become overwhelmed at times, which is part of why so many people relapse. Having a healthy outlet for relieving your stress isn’t just a good idea in addiction recovery; it’s crucial.
Exercise is one of the healthiest, most rewarding forms of stress relief you can get. Whether you take kickboxing lessons or simply go for a walk, you’ll get a mood-lifting boost of endorphins that can almost immediately take the edge off. Exercise relaxes you. It works the mind-body connection to burn off the frustrated energy you’re constantly building up while in recovery, and gives you something healthy to focus on. You won’t be able to instantly get to the root of your addiction or find the right words to make things right with your loved ones, but you can start stretching every day and eating healthier. It’s important to have tangible goals that can remind you of how strong you truly are and give you the confidence to power on.
No matter what your drug of choice, your body likely has some resulting damage from your substance abuse. Keep in mind that depending on your circumstances, your health issues may require that you don’t over-exert yourself within the first few weeks of sobriety. Putting too much strain on the body while it’s getting over the shock of detoxification can be dangerous, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you. That said, certain fitness routines might even be able to help you promote your body’s healing.
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If you grew sedentary in your height of use, getting outside and walking can improve your flexibility, mobility, and cardiovascular health. It can lower your blood pressure, improve circulation, and even reduce your risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases. What may seem like small steps toward improved fitness are actually significant, and the results often develop more quickly than you’d expect.
Research has shown that working out may also help reduce addiction-related withdrawal symptoms and lessen cravings. That’s probably in large part because the endorphins released during exercise are the same ones that were triggered by your drug of choice — it’s the same kind of boost, but in a healthy form. Exercise can be your outlet when you’re feeling tempted to use (just so long as it doesn’t become an addiction in itself), and though you might not always look forward to it at first, by the end you’ll truly feel better.
Recommended Forms of Fitness
The beauty of fitness is that there’s really no “wrong” way to do it. You can try whichever activities or regimens you like and change things up at any time. These are a few ideas on what will support your recovery best — and remember, this is a great time to try something new.
Yoga is an excellent way to maximize the benefits of exercise. Not only is it amazing for your body, it implements meditation, as well. Yoga teaches you to focus only on the present moment and current task at hand; being able to let go of your worries and struggles with recovery, even briefly, can be the best medicine for you. It can help you learn to calm your mind and ease your anxieties, and you may even find that meditation alone can help you overcome moments of temptation. In most areas you can find classes at every level at local gyms and recreation centers, but there are also an abundance of online guides that can help you get started.
You don’t have to hike a mountain in order for it to be beneficial to your health and recovery, and in fact, simply being outside in nature has therapeutic effects of its own. Going for a hike through the park or in the woods near your home is a great way to exercise, get some fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin (and the resulting mood-lifting dose of vitamin D), and gain perspective. It’s important to remember in recovery that the world is a big place — there’s more out there than just your addiction demons. The world is also an incredibly beautiful place, and it can be easy to lose sight of that when you’re facing so many ugly pieces of your past. Hiking can be a healthy reminder that there’s so much more to be grateful for in the sober world than there ever was when you were using.
Swimming is an excellent option for those who have physical pain or damage following their substance abuse because it makes your body buoyant. This allows you to exercise without the pressure on your joints and muscles. Whether you swim laps, participate in water aerobics, or anything in-between, you can work any muscle area at any intensity. The calming effect of water can be soothing in itself, and may even end up becoming the part of your day you look forward to the most.
Most people love the liberating feeling of busting a move on the dance floor, and it’s a wonderful option for your recovery fitness routine. Dancing can lower stress, improve your mood, get your heart pumping, and increase your energy and flexibility. If you have the opportunity to try a class, choose something you’ll be excited about going to — even if you’ve never tried that style before. You can create your own dance exercise routine at home, or buddy up with a partner to go dancing in the park. Whatever your style, dancing gives you an escape from the frustrations of recovery, a hobby to focus on, and healthy fun you can enjoy just about anywhere.
Additional Activities For People With Disabilities, Pregnant Women, and Seniors
It’s important to always consult your doctor when these considerations apply, but there are still many different forms of exercise that can bring benefits without health complications. Adaptive sports are an excellent choice for people with disabilities, and joining a local rec league is the perfect way to meet new people. (That’s especially important if most of your friends are still living addicted lives).
Gardening is low-impact, adaptable exercise that often comes with delicious results — if you choose to grow fruit or vegetables, you’ll have the added health benefit of a more nutritious diet. If you’re a parent or grandparent, you might discover that you can get plenty of exercise by playing in the backyard with the kids. Even taking the dog for a walk or to the dog park can get you outside and active, and all the better if you bring a friend and get some social time, too.
If your circumstances are particularly complex, you can work with your physician or a specialist to find an exercise routine that’s right for you. It might take some strategy, but in the end you’ll find an activity that works your body, relaxes your mind, and gives you something to look forward to.
Incorporating Healthy Habits
Maybe you don’t have the time or finances for any kind of formal fitness routine, or you’re giving your body time to repair itself. It could even be that amid everything else, the idea of coming up with yet another new responsibility feels overwhelming. That’s OK — there are still ways you can work activity and healthy habits into your everyday life!
The first step is to constantly look for opportunities to be more active. Maybe you take the stairs to the third floor instead of the elevator, or give up that prime parking spot up front for one a little further back. Each extra step counts, and they all add up over time. The more you get into the habit of looking for exercise, the easier it will be to find.
You can also start making healthier eating choices to really reinforce that mind-body connection. Putting more nutritious food in your body can not only lift your energy, it can really make you feel better, and in turn, boost your mood. It can raise your confidence to make the conscious effort to eat healthier; now that you’re healing, you’ve set an important, high standard for yourself to stay on the right track.
The truth is exercise is good for you whether you’re in the midst of attaining lasting sobriety or not, but implementing it into your recovery can make a meaningful difference on the process. Staying clean means caring for your well-being as a whole, and the right fitness routine can help you find the healthy balance of body, mind, and spirit.
- ABC News — Yoga, Meditation Benefit Both Brain and Body
- Mayo Clinic — Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress
- PsychCentral — The Relationship Between Mental & Physical Health
- Medline Plus — Substance use recovery and diet
- Prevention — 7 Incredible Health Benefits of Walking 30 Minutes a Day
- Huffington Post — Can Exercise Help Treat Addiction?