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How Physical Fitness Can Be Life-Changing For Recovery Survivors

There’s something to be said for 12-step programs and support groups, but when it comes to maintaining sobriety, there’s another habit that helps combat that 60 to 90 percent relapse rate the first year: exercise. While recovery survivors have to give up a big chunk of their previous lifestyles, regular sweat sessions still foster a sense of camaraderie and socialization, both of which are crucial for long-term recovery. Not to mention, mood-boosting endorphins can help mimic that “high” feeling that helps squash cravings, anxiety, and depression. Considering physical activity is a key component to any healthy lifestyle, it stands to reason why it’s starting to be considered as an effective alternative treatment method for those previously addicted to drugs and alcohol. Here’s how to maintain a routine while catering to the side effects of being newly sober.


Incorporate Activity, But Not Too Quickly

One need not feel like they have to sign up for a marathon to prove they want to be physically active — especially after being complacent during the addiction phase. It’s not uncommon for recovery survivors to experience muscle atrophy (deterioration of the tissue), so it’s smarter to start slowly. For example, low-impact activities such as yoga, swimming, and meditation can relieve stress and anxiety while preventing a relapse — specifically because each helps one to achieve inner peace while gaining control over negative emotions. While it’s always a good idea to check with a physician before starting an exercise routine, it’s particularly crucial for recovery survivors, because they may have developed underlying health issues such as liver disease, brain damage, malnutrition-related issues, and pancreatitis. 


Restoration Through Food

As with any exercise plan, diet is key, but eating nutritious foods may not have been top of mind when one was addicted. With that in mind, it’s important that the body is restored from the inside out. While a balanced diet is a good rule of thumb, there are specific foods that can help with the withdrawal and restoration process. For example, brightly-colored fruits and vegetables such as papaya, bell peppers, oranges, and strawberries; stomach-soothing complex carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice; vitamin B6-rich proteins like salmon and lean red meat (lentils and tofu for vegetarians); and plenty of vitamin-rich, dark green, leafy vegetables. Water (and lots of it) is also a key, but electrolyte-packed drinks and coconut water can also help refurbish hydration levels — especially if vomiting is a side effect.


Staying Motivated

Finding ways to stay motivated during the recovery process may feel challenging at times — especially if a relapse occurs. Tactics such as setting up a basic home gym (think dumbbells, a yoga mat, medicine ball, resistance bands), signing up for a race, and joining a health club or sports league can help one stay on track because of convenience and/or accountability. Many rehab programs offer assistance finding such activities where like-minded individuals are present, which can be helpful for anyone struggling with temptation related to post-workout socialization. Since it’s likely that exercise was not a part of one’s schedule for quite some time, it’s better to slow down a routine for the sake of one’s overall health than to quit cold turkey — this is why regular trips to the doctor are helpful.


While exercise and healthy eating are forms of self-care, implementing additional practices such as getting enough sleep, engaging in a hobby or interest, making time for sober social activities, and meditating can only enhance the recovery process as a whole. Maintaining long-term sobriety can only happen if one is willing to make an all-encompassing lifestyle change.


written by Constance Ray

Constance Ray started Recoverywell.org with the goal of creating a safe place for people to share how addiction has affected them, whether they are combating it themselves or watching someone they care about work to overcome it. The goal is to share stories of hope from survivors who know that the fight against addiction is one worth having, because no matter how it affects you, life can get better. 

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