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The Benefits of Getting Fit in Recovery

Moving forward in recovery means exactly that, moving in a forward motion—movement.
Patty Bell Nov 22, 2019
One of the most positive actions someone in early recovery can take is to initiate a regular fitness routine. For the newly sober, fitness isn’t just about carving out 6-pack abs.
Fitness in recovery has a much more noble meaning. By adding regular exercise to one’s daily routine he or she is sending a message to self:

"I am strong, I am moving forward, I am winning the battle."
Everyone knows many health benefits of exercise. Even something as simple as taking a fifteen-minute walk every evening can have tremendous positive health effects. Exercise keeps our bodies toned and strong, and our cardiovascular system healthy. There is simply no downside to fitness.
In addiction recovery, exercise takes a different, deeper meaning. True, fitness helps restore physical wellness after the drug or alcohol addiction has laid waste to wellness for possibly years on end. But in recovery, exercise is much more than that.

How Does Exercise Benefit Recovery

When looking for reasons to add an exercise routine to one’s aftercare efforts, one finds some pretty amazing evidence to support fitness in recovery.
These benefits almost fit together like a puzzle, with one positive effect leading to the next. Let’s explore some of the ways that, in addition to restoring physical health and stamina, exercise can be a boon to recovery efforts.

Builds Confidence

While in active addiction, most people have a pretty low opinion of themselves. The energy spent on feeding the addiction meant other areas of life were neglected, leading to negative consequences that left a low sense of self in their wake.
Addiction crowds out the many attributes you once took pride in, leaving a shell of that person in its place.
Engaging in physical training or sport can help rebuild l ost self-confidence. The more you work at your sport or activity, the more you begin to master it.

Becoming skilled at a physical sport gives you something to feel really good about again, and getting physically fit makes you feel great about how you look.

Keeps You Focused

By focusing on a fitness routine your energy is directed toward something positive. Fitness goals become an important part of your life.
Some may decide to train for a marathon, to make it all the way up to Half Dome in Yosemite, to cycle in a 100-mile fundraiser race—whatever the goal you have set, your time and energy is now focused on succeeding in accomplishing the feat.
Fitness goals do not have to be insane. Setting a goal to swim one extra lap each week at the pool or walk an extra half mile with the dog can become just as useful in distracting the mind from thinking about or romancing past drug or alcohol abuse.

It is about setting goals and directing energy toward meeting them that can benefit someone in recovery.

It’s Empowering

Ask anyone who sets out to get in shape after a long period of sedentary behavior, and then successfully achieves that goal. While addiction robbed you of your inner strength, your mental mojo, achieving a lofty goal in recovery can be very empowering.
In recovery, it is all about the mindset. It is about taking control of the monster and throwing it down, defeating the disease. When you are out there running with the wind or hiking up a hillside, you are strong, invincible, completely in control.
Your mind in recovery is giving you the power to control your body’s movements, one step after the other. To get up, put on the shoes, and hit the gym fiercely. Fitness gives you a sense of power over the monster, and that is amazing.

It’s Productive

What would you rather be boasting about? “Yeah, today I knocked back a fifth,” or “Yeah, today I came in third at the mountain bike race.” Drugs and alcohol are thieves. They steal your spirit and they rob you of your capabilities as a human being.
In recovery, one of the best things one can do for themselves is to be a productive person. To wake up each day and have a plan, a focus on what you will achieve that day—and what can you look back at later that night and feel really good about achieving.
To use your time productively. Fitness goals provide an excellent opportunity to set realistic goals that leave you feeling like you actually accomplished something positive that day.
This is especially true when taking on a new activity—learning tai chi, participating in the upcoming Spartan race, training for the 5K—it doesn’t matter what you decide to try, just go for it and enjoy a sense of being productive when you follow through and complete it.

Positive State of Mind

Rebuilding one’s life in recovery takes time and patience. Often, lingering post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) leave you feeling listless and depressed, which hampers your efforts to move forward in recovery.
The fastest way to overcome the PAWS and reclaim your positive attitude is through regular physical activity. Science has proven that, beyond any doubt, exercise benefits mood and wellbeing.

The natural brain chemicals produced, such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, have several beneficial effects, enhanced mood being one of them.
Add to the more energy, better sleep quality, reduced stress, and crisper cognitive function and it all equates to a more positive state of mind. The physical health attributes associated with regular exercise, including aerobic, weight-training, and mind-body activities, is well-documented.
There is no question that physical fitness is beneficial to the body. But when it comes to addiction recovery, exercise plays an even bigger role in overall wellness. It becomes a weapon to wield in the face of the insidious disease, a clarion call that you are powerful, and you will prevail.

About The Author

Patty Bell is the Relations Manager and Interventionist at Capo By The Sea and Solutions 4 Recovery, a luxury addiction and dual diagnosis treatment centers California program.

While being a living example of the freedom found in recovery, is what motivates her to guide clients toward their own stable, long-term recovery.