Being in recovery means more than simply refraining from abusing alcohol or drugs. For a lasting recovery, you need to address the underlying issues that contributed to your substance abuse and build the habits necessary for a wellness-focused lifestyle. Beginning a regular exercise program is a key part of this process.
Benefits of Exercise in Recovery
There are many reasons why exercise is recommended as part of an addiction treatment plan. Regular physical activity can:
- Boost mood and promote positive thinking
- Treat symptoms of depression
- Improve energy levels
- Promote more restful sleep
- Alleviate chronic pain without the risks of prescription opioid painkillers
- Strengthen your immune system, which has been damaged by substance abuse
- Reduce cravings
Aside from the physical benefits, exercise can also be a great hobby that prevents the boredom recognized as a relapse trigger.
Goals for Physical Activity
One popular guideline for people interested in beginning an exercise program is to aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. This can be a continuous block of time or small bursts of activity throughout the course of the day, depending upon your current fitness level and scheduling needs.
A more detailed exercise recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services offers guidelines for both aerobic activity and strength training.
- Healthy adults should aim to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
- Strength training exercises using major muscle groups should be incorporated into your workout at least two times a week. You should try to do a single set of each exercise, using weights or resistance levels that are heavy enough to cause fatigue after 12 to 15 repetitions.
A good way to tell if you’re engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity is to see how easy it is to talk while exercising. If you can comfortably speak, but not sing, you’re working at a moderate level. If you can’t speak more than a few words without catching your breath, you’re engaged in vigorous exercise.
It’s understandable to be apprehensive about starting an exercise program if you haven’t worked out since high school gym class. However, keep in mind that you’re the one in control. Nobody is expecting you to become a star athlete overnight.
Exercise will be more enjoyable if you choose an activity that fits your interests and personality type. If you’re passionate about music, dancing is a great workout. If you enjoy being outdoors, consider walking, running, hiking, or biking. If you love to socialize, think about joining an adult rec sports team. If you are craving a form of stress relief, yoga might be the perfect fit.
If you’re not sure what you’d enjoy, classes offered at a nearby gym or fitness center can let you try out several different activities without making a huge commitment. Many facilities offer free introductory classes or discounted passes for new members, which can help you keep costs to a minimum.
Sticking to an Exercise Plan
If you’ve tried to begin an exercise plan in the past and found yourself lapsing back into old habits, these tips can help you reach your fitness goals:
- Schedule time to exercise, just as you schedule time for therapy appointments and 12-Step group meetings.
- Enlist a friend or family member to serve as your workout buddy. Having a partner to exercise with promotes accountability and turns your workout into more of a social activity.
- Track your progress. Find ways to measure and track the results of your workout, such as calculating how much weight you’re able to lift or how long it takes to run one mile. Seeing how your hard work pays off will keep you focused.
- Avoid fixating on appearances. Our culture remains heavily focused on appearance, which is why so many people struggle with body image issues. However, focusing on exercise as a means to weight loss or improving personal “trouble spots” sets you up for disappointment.
- Direct your attention to how exercise makes you feel instead of focusing on what you see in the mirror.
- Reward yourself. For some people, rewards can provide a needed incentive to stick to their exercise routine. You might want to reward yourself with a new workout outfit, music to exercise to, or new fitness equipment. A mini vacation that incorporates physical activity, such as a trip to a place that’s planning a 5K or offers activities such as parasailing and rock climbing, is another possibility to consider.
Enjoy the Journey
As you’re working towards your fitness goals, avoid the temptation to compare your progress to others. It doesn’t matter if someone else is able to run faster or make the game winning shot. This part of your recovery journey is yours alone.