While addiction falls under the umbrella of mental health disorders, there is no avoiding the fact that it severely impacts the body as well as the brain. Drugs and alcohol can cause damage to multiple essential systems, from the heart and blood vessels to the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Individuals who struggle with addiction are also known to neglect their health and wellness as they become completely focused on the next fix. Poor hygiene, malnutrition and severe weight fluctuations are common signs and side effects of living with a substance use disorder.
In treatment for addiction, restoring physical health and wellness is essential and beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Not only does it counteract the damage caused by substance abuse in the short term, but teaching recovering addicts how to care for themselves and their bodies instills lifelong healthy habits that replace the harmful behaviors of addiction. Through fitness and nutrition programs, recovery centers can impart life skills like self-discipline, goal setting, meal planning, time management and positive body image.
At Pinnacle Recovery, we provide our residential and outpatient clients with ongoing nutritional support throughout treatment, and we offer and encourage a range of exercise options. We also partner with a local organization in Utah, Fit to Recover, that organizes workouts, fitness classes, team sports and cooking courses for men and women in recovery in the Salt Lake City area. Through our programming, we have come to see firsthand how working out in recovery benefits our clients and helps them achieve their full potential.
Benefits of Fitness in Recovery
Exercise is good for you, and your body knows it. When you work out, your body produces hormones called endorphins that trigger the same reward pathways in the brain that are influenced by drugs and alcohol. But instead of a flood of artificial chemicals, you’ll experience a natural, healthy boost in happiness, energy, confidence and positivity. Cardiovascular exercises that get your heart rate up, like jogging, biking or dancing, are especially good for improving mood.
Exercising regularly infuses a positive, happy outlook into your life and gives you something to look forward to in your daily schedule. And, as you move further away from substance abuse and your brain readjusts to normal levels of neurological activity, working out will feel better every time. This sense of accomplishment will be compounded as you see physical changes in your body and feel your strength and stamina growing with time.
While it sounds like an alternative medicine concept, the mind-body connection is a proven principle, backed by clinical studies from organizations including Harvard Medical School and the National Institutes of Health. These studies consistently show that mental and physical health are closely related: improving one leads to improvements in the other, and creates a positive feedback loop in which an individual feels more motivated to maintain their well-being.
As a result, when people in recovery begin an exercise routine — whether it’s daily morning walks or rigorous weightlifting — they strengthen their bodies and their minds simultaneously. Mental and physical wellness flourish together, so you can heal and grow strong on multiple levels. Additionally, working out is often doubly beneficial if you have a co-occurring diagnosis, as exercise can help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD or other mental health concerns.
Learning to good about yourself again after addiction can be hard, but it makes a life-changing difference. Sociological studies indicate that confident people perceive themselves as happier and more successful, and that others perceive them as more likable and more optimistic. Working out makes changes in your body, like weight loss or muscle gain, that can help you love the person you see in the mirror. This self-love will spread to other areas of your life, too, like your job and your social life.
Confidence is also key in early recovery during treatment. You must believe in your own ability to overcome substance abuse and live a sober life. Addiction wreaks havoc on a person’s sense of self-worth, and changing this view is no easy task. Working out offers a clear-cut path to improving confidence and comes with tangible benefits as the body changes to look healthier and stronger.
Goal-setting is frequently discussed in recovery. We want every person who seeks addiction treatment to succeed not only in sobriety but also in their personal goals. We show our clients how to set themselves up for success with smaller goals leading up to a bigger outcome, rather than aiming for the final goal without a means of getting there.
Fitness is a perfect outlet for practicing goal-setting. Perhaps your end goal is to lose 25 pounds, or to run a half marathon. If you’re just starting out with exercising regularly, you won’t be able to accomplish these things all at once. Instead, you set smaller stepping stones for yourself. Each pound, each mile becomes its own goal along the way. When you apply this same method to your sobriety, your career or your hobbies, you’ll feel better prepared to accomplish what you want instead of feeling overwhelmed by how far away your goal seems.
How to Make Fitness Part of Your Life in Recovery
The Best Types of Exercise in Recovery
There is no secret formula for working out in recovery that’s guaranteed to give you the best results. Every person’s body has different comfort levels, and everyone finds the type of exercise they like best. Some of our clients excel at the gym, preferring a community environment. Others prefer solo distance runs with their favorite music; still others dislike organized exercise and gravitate toward hobbies, like skateboarding or gardening, that include physical activity. If you are looking for somewhere to start, popular options include:
- Yoga — The combination of physical activity and a meditative state can be incredibly therapeutic for the mind as well as the body.
- Outdoors activities — Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing or similar activities offer a blend of physical activity and the therapeutic effects of spending time in nature.
- Group fitness classes — Having a set schedule and a community is a great way to build accountability into your workout and make sure you stick with your new fitness routine.
- Team sports — Like group fitness, team sports add accountability; they also encourage teamwork and bonding and can be a great way to make friends in your community.
Physical activity isn’t the only aspect of fitness that people in recovery should use. Other healthy habits can contribute to overall wellness and can have the same beneficial effects as working out. Nutrition, for example, is equally as important as exercise. If you don’t give your body the fuel it needs to reach peak performance, your fitness goals might be for naught. Getting vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein into your diet will help your workouts feel even better and will boost your energy for other activities, too.
Some other good habits to adopt include staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep and practicing good hygiene. Many aspects of wellness are small, everyday adjustments — drinking water instead of soda, turning off screens a half hour before bedtime, brushing your teeth twice a day — that make an astounding difference in the way your body feels and functions. It all boils down to one simple chain reaction: when your body is healthy, you feel good; and when you feel good, your positive attitude helps you excel in all aspects of life in recovery.
If you’re interested in joining a recovery-oriented fitness community in the Salt Lake City area, visit www.fit2recover.org. If you or your loved one is in need of recovery treatment, Pinnacle Recovery provides exceptional residential and outpatient programs for adult men and women in Holladay, Utah. Contact us today at 866-301-0573 to find out more about how we incorporate fitness and wellness into addiction recovery, or to find how our programs can get you started on your path to healing.