7 Ways Exercise Enhances Your Recovery

By Olivia Pennelle 08/15/16

And 7 easy ways to add some fitness to your daily life.

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Can Exercise Enhance Your Recovery?
Beat food with exercise.

At around the two years clean mark, I reached another rock bottom. I was devastated by my appearance, and distressed about my lack of control around my appetite. I was around 150 pounds overweight and was out of control with my eating. I was ruled by my emotions and sought out food as a means to soothe me and change the way I felt. It was my last fix. I could no longer use drugs, alcohol and nicotine. Food was the only thing left.

I reached a point where the pain became too much. I was on my knees. I had reached a point of surrender and I needed help.

What I was experiencing was a ravine of disconnection between my behavior and my goal to be well in all areas of my life. I was acting out with my goals. I was powerless. I was utterly confused by my contradictory behavior. Why was I unable to control my hand feeding me? What formed this disconnection between my mind and my hand? What was wrong with me? How was I able to stop using drugs addictively, but not food?

I have spent the last two years of my recovery bridging the gap of that disconnection between my desire to be well and my behavior. I want to share with you the key lessons I have learned and some practical tips to help anyone in recovery experiencing the same problems, the same pain. Research shows that exercise can actually enhance your recovery. It can help prevent relapse and provide an integral part of a recovery toolkit. This is what I have learned and how I have applied that information.

The key lesson that I have learned is that I cannot do this alone. Like recovery, our greatest successes are when we see our fallibility and get humble by asking for help. So I did. I hired a life coach, who specialized in good nutrition and exercise, and asked for help.

Furthermore, I learned that recovery has to be a holistic process. And that process is one of uncovering, discarding and letting go, one fix at a time. It is a process that looks at your whole self: mental, physical and emotional well-being. It enables the unveiling of reasons why we used drugs and alcohol. For me, that was to avoid crippling depression, overwhelming anxiety (including paralyzing social anxiety), fear, lack of confidence and little self-worth. I used as a means to "cope" with difficult feelings and life events. I had to discard behaviors which didn’t work for me. First I let go of alcohol, then drugs, then smoking, and was left with overeating. And I ate my feelings like there was no tomorrow!

Food is different to drugs. You can’t abstain. You need to eat to survive. But the application of the same holistic recovery process is the same: you surrender, you ask for help and you apply those suggestions.

Which leads me to exercise…

Exercise was, and is, my friend, truly. I am able to use it as one of the most powerful recovery tools. Here are some of the benefits of regular exercise: 

1. it releases feel-good hormones which can help improve your mood, alleviate depression and help cushion the negative effects of stopping using

2. it is an effective means of relieving stress

3. it can assist weight loss in the burning of calories and cause some appetite suppression

4. it boosts self-esteem and confidence

5. it promotes better sleep, in terms of deepness of sleep and ease in getting to sleep

6. it can improve health conditions, such as cholesterol, and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes

7. it can boost energy through the oxygenation of the cardiovascular system and lead to increased muscle strength

So it was a huge factor in helping not only my weight loss, but my ability to tackle the issues leading me to overeat. I needed a stress reliever. I needed a tool which would effectively deliver the alleviation that I was looking for in drugs—that "ah" feeling. Exercise helps shorten the gap between my desire to be healthy and my behavior.

I am a very practical, solution-oriented person. I need to know exactly what to do, when and how. I also have a tendency to obsess. Fancy that?! Upon meeting with my coach I explained this, and asked for some practical help with the same desperation I did in my first meeting. She helped design a plan of action which I took to like I was a natural. These are the things I did, some of which I continue to do, two years later:

1. I immediately began walking 10,000 steps a day. It was so hard at first because of my sheer weight. But I did it. I bought a pedometer, laced up my shoes, and off I went. I did not stop each day until I had achieved that milestone.

2. I bought a bike, gave up my bus pass and made it my only mode of transport. This is the most freeing activity I have in my life. I have gained such freedom and independence I never thought imaginable. Initially, two miles was a challenge, but now I cycle in excess of 50 miles per week and I love it. I love it so much. It gives me a space to reflect that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

3. I started going to the gym a minimum of two days per week. I now go up to five times per week.

4. I downloaded the Couch to 5K app and started right away. I can now run 5K and will run 1 or 2 times per week. I sometimes take part in the UK Park Run, in my local park at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You wouldn’t have caught me doing that a few years ago.

5. I lift weights. I love lifting weights. Consequently, I am really strong. And no, weights do not make you big, they give you a decent butt and definition. And, they increase your resting metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories, so they are your friend!

6. I try and undertake some kind of activity every day. Even if it is just cycling to work and back.

7. I use exercise as a stress reliever. After meetings and calling a sponsor, It’s my next go-to recovery tool.

Yes, exercise can enhance your recovery. It is a vital part of my holistic recovery toolkit. It provides an enhancement that I wouldn’t otherwise get with just meetings and talking therapy. It helps relieve stress and work toward my weight loss goals. It bridges that gap between my goals and my behavior. And that, to me, is recovery.

Writer, blogger, nutrition and recovery advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), entered recovery in March 2012. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Liv’s popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen charts her weight loss journey and seeks to highlight the parallels between food, alcohol and drug addiction.

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