Exercise may not be top of mind when someone is in the midst of a substance abuse problem, but for those in recovery, physical fitness can greatly reduce symptoms of withdrawal and cravings while increasing self-esteem, negating previous health issues, and helping build a platform for long-term sobriety. According to Bradford Health Services, the feel-good endorphin surge after a sweat session can replace the rush of an illicit substance. Not to mention, it’s a healthy way to fill spare time while providing structure so that one is less apt to lose control of their willpower. Here’s how to approach physical fitness for both short- and long-term health if you’ve had a problem with substance abuse.
Find the Right Exercise to Suit Your Needs
While there are copious benefits to exercise, routines should be considered on a case-by-case basis, because drug and alcohol abuse can cause muscle degeneration and extreme damage to the skeletal system. Endurance and blood pressure concerns may also exist. This is not to say those in recovery should stay put, but they should definitely have an in-depth conversation with their doctor to determine which exercises are safe, because there may be contraindications.
There’s no reason to take on an Olympian-like workout. As MaxLiving notes, walking is a great place to start, because it’s easy to incorporate into one’s daily schedule in small increments at a time. Cardio and weight training can help build heart health and increase muscle mass while boosting mood at the same time. Should there be an issue with bones and joints, low-impact exercises such as swimming are a safer option. Outdoor activities like hiking have added benefits, because the vitamin D from the sun also improves your constitution. Slowing things down with a meditative form of yoga or tai chi is great for both mental and physical health.
Once you’ve solidified an exercise routine, you can take exercise classes or follow along on YouTube to help you stay motivated. You can even tap into your health insurance benefits for workout programs if they are available to you. For example, seniors can sign up for a Medicare Advantage plan that offers SilverSneakers, a fitness program that gives members access to thousands of exercise facilities around the country. Silver Sneakers also provides fitness classes that teach yoga, sports, and other forms of exercise.
Try to Adopt Other Healthy Habits
Jumping on the exercise bandwagon early on can increase the chances of maintaining sobriety while having a more positive recovery experience in general. The timing is particularly important since it takes slightly more than two months for a new habit to form, though some studies claim it only takes 21 days. The positive side effects from physical fitness can also encourage those in recovery to simultaneously adopt other healthy habits, including eating nutritious foods, getting better (and regular) sleep, being more social in a non-tempting setting, paying better attention to personal hygiene habits, and trying a new hobby or activity.
Art and music therapy are two additional forms of treatment that provide a platform for creativity and dealing with emotions while getting to the root of the substance abuse problem. Taking a sober vacation with a group of like-minded individuals is another great way to stay active while learning to enjoy life without drugs or alcohol. Hotels and resorts all over the globe are offering a safe place for those with issues with substance abuse to relax sans any temptation. Many of these trips are designed around wellness and fitness to serve as a healthy distraction while increasing physical and mental health.
Just like one shouldn’t go on a diet only to start eating slabs of chocolate cake once they reach their goal weight, those in recovery shouldn’t bail on fitness as soon as their treatment culminates. Maintaining sobriety is a lifelong journey that needs to be supported with positive actions. Joining the gym (or setting up one at home), trying different classes at singular fitness studios, signing up for a race, hiring a personal trainer, or working out with a buddy can help prevent burnout.