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Exercise and Fitness in Recovery

A New Year means a new resolution, and many people will be hitting the gym as a result. However, if you are in the midst of early recovery, paying attention to your health and fitness levels can be important for other reasons as well–one of which is the physical impact on the body of the active addiction. While there are treatment centers that provide analysis of a newly recovering persons’ health and provides fitness options, many cannot afford this type of treatment and are left wondering where to begin.

This is a difficult choice for those who have not been in the best of health to begin with. However, it is an important feature to address in early recovery. Because they may have many addictions to contend with, such as nicotine addiction, sugar addiction, caffeine addiction, and others that impact their health, but are not primary to their treatment regimen, they will have to structure their recovery to accommodate these things. Many who are addicted to drugs and alcohol will remain smokers and eat or drink things that are unhealthy and detrimental to a strict workout regimen.

While they may one day address these secondary addictions, their initial plans for improving their health through exercise will be less stringent for obvious reasons. Of course they will want to monitor their health by visiting a physician and following the recommendations given after ascertaining their basic good health, a beginning may be found in simple exercise that will be as innocuous as possible in order to avoid injury and danger to their health.

Walking is a good way to begin. Improving one’s breathing capability and heart rate is optimal for nearly anyone, but especially those who have been doing little physical activity and are feeling the discomfort of early recovery. The human body will go through many side effects during the process of recovery, but the early days will sometimes be acutely uncomfortable for nearly everyone. Obviously, the first days of withdrawal from medications and alcohol will be closely monitored by the agency they are in, or in a hospital setting, or by their family doctor. Medical assistance is highly recommended for withdrawal from substance abuse. At the point where the body is free from the effects of early withdrawal and is healthy enough to participate in activity of a physical nature, walking is a good way to calm the nerves that are heavily impacted by that physical withdrawal. As they heal mentally and physically, walking will give nearly anyone a more positive outlook on their process. If walking outdoors, the sunshine and fresh air are bound to increase feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

Learning to breathe, as in a yoga setting will also enhance early recovery. Toxins have been eliminated from the body and breathing deeply to continue the cleansing process is beneficial. Stretching and easy yoga poses are also good for helping to further cleanse the liver, kidneys, lungs and other vital organs after the detoxification process is complete. Most will feel more confident and energized by a simple stretching routine as found in beginning yoga classes.

The challenge for many addicts, who can often be classified as “all or nothing” types, is to moderately exercise. They will start out with a routine that is far too taxing for them, then fail to continue when they injure themselves or feel pain in muscles not used properly for some time. It is important to begin with small amounts of beneficial exercise and to grow a practice from there. It is not recommended that they begin with running a marathon, or even a mile, but to slowly develop a short walk of around the block and a few minutes of yoga breathing and stretching into longer periods of exercise over some time.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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