In addiction recovery, the body has some major healing to do. This includes the mind, body, and spirit. While there shouldn’t be any rushing to do weight lifting competitions, creating a fitness routine can help keep sobriety on-track and promote healing and wellness. Fortunately, there are countless ways to exercise that have amazing benefits to recovery.

Fitness in Recovery

Fitness can play an important physical and mental role in addiction recovery. In active addiction, the body has been damaged and broken down. Exercise increases overall wellbeing and releases endorphins, making it a useful strategy in battling substance abuse and decreasing the chances of relapse. Implementing an active lifestyle and working on your physical health is an important part of the healing process.

When someone is recovering from a substance addiction, they may experience a difficult time experiencing pleasure. This relates to the neurotransmitters affected in the brain. The diminished ability to feel happiness can increase the chance of a relapse. Exercise can help in boosting a person’s mood while they are working towards maintaining sobriety.

The Benefits

It’s no secret that recovery is a long and difficult journey for many. Even for those fully committed to overcoming addiction, cutting out substances that the body previously relied on puts stress on both the body and mind. Your body has to learn how to function without the substances, and may go through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. At the same time, the mind is alerting the body that it needs the substance. Developing a healthy outlet for relieving stress is a crucial part of addiction recovery.

Physical exercise is a natural, healthy, and rewarding form of stress relief. From yoga, to kickboxing classes, or simply going for a walk, all forms of activity provide a mood-lift boost of endorphins. Physical activity relaxes you while improving the mind-body connection to relieve the frustrating energy of recovery. Establishing a fitness routine that works for the individual will provide something healthy to focus on.

How to Establish a Fitness Routine

Consulting with the person’s team while in treatment or physician is necessary to ensure the individual’s own health and safety. Depending on the circumstances, the health issues of some in recovery may require them to not over-exert themselves in the first few weeks of sobriety. Putting too much strain on the body during the shock of detoxification could be dangerous, so it’s important to talk with a professional before establishing a routine.

First and foremost, it is important to have tangible goals to work towards. These goals remind the individual of how strong they truly are and provide the confidence to continue on with their workouts. Another useful tool is to make these goals SMART, as in:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

If the individual has never exercised, or it’s been long period of time, they should consider starting small. This could be going for a walk around the neighborhood every morning and gradually increasing speed or distance. Start slow and work your way up to your routine.

Create a schedule using a calendar. This way, the individual can get used to their fitness routine and hold themselves accountable. They should pick activities that interest them and that they enjoy so they are more likely to continue them. Staying motivated is key for an effective workout routine in recovery.

A good way to discover which activities they enjoy and work for them is to take different workout classes at a gym or studio. Joining a team or group class can also make working out more enjoyable for some people. Doing activities with other people can be extremely motivating. This can also encourage a build-up of a new and healthy support network.

Cautions About Exercise in Recovery

There is no doubt that exercise can help in preventing relapse and encouraging sobriety. However, there can be risks associated with overworking as well. Just like anything else, too much physical exercise can turn problematic and compulsive. It is key to find a healthy balance for fitness during recovery.

A common risk is addiction replacement- when an individual replaces on addiction for another. Replacing a substance addiction with a fitness and exercise addiction can be harmful to both the mind and body. Some dangers associated with fitness addiction include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Physical Injury
  • Hazardous Weight Loss
  • Avoiding Responsibilities
  • Interpersonal and Social Issues
  • Withdrawal Effects When Exercise Ceases (sleep problems, irritability, anxiety)

An effective way to avoid exercise addiction is to take breaks. Scheduling days off gives the muscles the time they need to repair themselves after strenuous physical activity. A day or two off in between workouts can prevent injury and illness. It’s always a good idea to talk to a doctor in regards to increasing fitness levels. An individual should always listen to their body to avoid overexertion.

Incorporate Healthy Habits

Whether or not a fitness routine has been established, it’s a good idea to start incorporating healthy habits into everyday life. The first step is to always look for opportunities to be more active. This includes taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking a little bit further for a longer walk. Every small step counts, and they will add up over time.

Along with good nutrition, exercise is one of the healthiest things for the body during recovery. Adopting these healthy habits during recovery provide benefits like:

  • Filling up time in a healthy way
  • Sleeping more soundly
  • Healing the body and mind
  • Having an outlet for stress, anger, and frustration
  • Building self-confidence

Regular workouts and developing new healthy habits in recovery can be an integral part of staying sober. Be sure to find balance between exercise and other forms of spiritual and mental activities to strengthen recovery. Establishing a fitness and wellness routine is essential not only for structure and comfort during recovery, but for physical health as well.


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