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Why Every Recovery Survivor Should Embrace Physical Fitness



Even if someone addicted to drugs or alcohol gets the help they need by entering a rehab program, between 40 and 60 percent of individuals have a relapse within one year. Since getting back in the saddle is easier said than done, it’s in the best interest of the recovery survivor to incorporate physical fitness into their treatment plan. Along with being a positive reinforcement activity, exercise also has the potential to stimulate a feeling of euphoria (aka a natural high) similar to the one experienced with an illicit substance. Here’s how you or someone else you know who is struggling with staying on track can embrace physical fitness


The Exercise and Mental Health Link

Approximately 20 percent of Americans with a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression have a substance abuse problem — and vice versa — which is why it’s crucial to address mental health at all times. In many cases, a treatment program may address both conditions simultaneously. This is where physical fitness comes in. Exercise helps to regulate your brain chemistry that was altered with substance abuse. With a regular commitment to several sweat sessions a week, natural endorphins return to the system, thus positively affecting mood. Copious studies have shown that exercise helps recovery survivors on a physical, emotional, and mental level and provides a great outlet for stress relief and feelings of frustration that come with how one feels physically during the detox process.


Some forms of exercise such as yoga, spinning, or weight training have a meditative effect that can help achieve focus while relieving stress, which can lead to a clearer and more optimistic mind post-workout. Once the participant starts building muscle and feeling better mentally, however, the result is greater self-confidence and feelings of hope for the future. Achieving such incredible benchmarks can make it easier to stay sober for the long-term.


Best Types of Exercise

While an exercise routine can start with simple walking, jogging, or running, studies suggest that a recovery survivor is more apt to stick with a routine when they’re given the opportunity to choose what type of workout they want to engage in. It’s also important to point out that some recovery survivors are in better shape than others post-addiction. Muscle atrophy (wasted away tissue) and heart conditions are not uncommon, so it can behoove the participant to ease into a program with non-weight bearing activities such as swimming and cycling to avoid injury. Light weight or resistance training is also a great way to build back muscle mass.


Too Much of a Good Thing

Even though the benefits of exercise for a recovery survivor are undeniable, there is the possibility of getting too much of a good thing. It’s not uncommon for those previously addicted to drugs and alcohol to develop an exercise addiction due to their addictive tendencies and the fact that they’re filling a void in their life with something else. One way to prevent this from happening is ensuring that other elements of self-care are incorporated into treatment, to include adequate sleep, sober social activities with friends and family, engaging in a new or hobby (or revisiting an old one), and meditation/mindfulness.


Every exercise program is maximized with proper nutrition, which is extremely important for a newly sober individual. The best diet is void of sugar and limit caffeine due to the spike and crash it can cause with energy levels. Easily digestible, high-fiber foods such as whole grain rice and pasta, legumes, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables are key. These items should be coupled with healthy fats (think olive oil and avocados) and lean protein to help rebuild muscle tissue. Some individuals may also need supplements, but that should be discussed with a dietician or physician.


By: Sheila Olson

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Sheila Olson has been a personal trainer for five years. She believes the best way to achieve physical fitness and good health is to set and tackle small goals. She encourages her clients to stay positive and incorporates mindfulness and practices for reducing negative talk into her sessions. She created FitSheila.com to spread the word about her fitness philosophy.

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