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The Role Of Health In Recovery

Life after treatment is about so much more than just staying clean. In order to truly find happiness and fulfillment in recovery, you have to make amends with the aspects of your life that were ignored during active addiction- including your health. “When clients come out of treatment, I always ask them: ‘What do you want to change about your life?’” starts Charlie, the director of A Balanced Life, Vertava Health’ aftercare program. “One of the first answers I always get is: ‘my health, I want to be healthier.’”   When you’re on the path of recovery, nutrition and exercise become powerful tools that can be utilized to boost your mood, increase your energy and reduce overall stress. With so many benefits to be had, allowing health to play an active role in your recovery isn’t just about reaching your goals, but reclaiming your mind, body and spirit in sobriety.

Nutrition In Recovery

Like most things during active addiction, proper nutrition often falls by the wayside. When you’re busy spending all of your money, time and energy on drugs or alcohol, it leaves you without any resources to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, some drugs will actually suppress your appetite and make you forget to eat anything at all. Due to this, many people will enter treatment weak and malnourished. “A lot of people in recovery don’t even realize that this is a part of their life that needs to change, but a large part of recovering from addiction is reclaiming your health in sobriety,” says Charlie, “and much of that starts with putting good food in your body.” After putting your body through the stress of extreme drug or alcohol use, it’s going to experience many painful side effects that your drug of choice will no longer be able to numb. Although putting good food in your body will never be able to fix these side effects, it can help reduce some pain and prevent further side effects in the future. [middle-callout] “While good nutrition will never be able to cure the physical consequences of addiction,” Charlie starts, “being proactive about eating healthy foods certainly gives you a better shot at not facing more health risks down the line.” Although eating a well-balanced diet can be paramount to reclaiming your health in sobriety, it can be difficult to make the right food choices after years of making the wrong ones. To that point, Charlie states that change will never happen overnight, and what it really comes down to is “making an effort to choose something better for you and having someone to hold you accountable for your decisions.” Charlie also mentions that the more you start integrating healthier choices into your new life, the easier these choices will become. As your body begins to heal from the inside out, you’ll start to feel the difference that good nutrition can make including:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Better memory
  • Stronger immune system
  • Reduced risk of disease

“At the end of the day, you have to be putting good food into your body to get positive results in recovery,” Charlie concludes.

Exercise In Recovery

While nutrition plays a fundamental role in recovery, it needs to go hand in hand with physical activity. “I heard someone say many years ago: ‘the most powerful tool that you have is your ability to sweat,’” begins Charlie. “Sweat heals a lot of things.” While it may seem like a silly quote, there is some truth to it- sweat and exercise can lend a hand in the healing process. Not only will a regular exercise routine make your body physically feel stronger, there are a number of hidden health benefits from working up a sweat, including:

  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced risk of some cancers
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased lifespan

After subjecting your body to the harsh toxins of drugs and alcohol, regular exercise will help your body bounce back from the damage sustained during active addiction. Additionally, regularly working out can help reduce the stress that’s often associated with early recovery. “If I’m angry, stressed, frustrated, lonely, tired- if I go out and spend 30 minutes doing some vigorous exercise my mood and perception completely changes,” Charlie says. “That’s why exercise is key to maintaining long-term sobriety.” Not only does exercise help reduce stress and anxiety for those in recovery, but working out has also been linked to improved mental health and happiness. So the next time you’re feeling stressed out on your journey of recovery, try taking a walk outside or doing a few push-ups in your living room. Even just a few minutes of exercise can help you cope with anxiety. “In order to maintain a healthy, stress-free life, there has to be a commitment to regularly exercising,” explains Charlie. “And it starts with making a plan and holding yourself accountable.”

Mental Wellness In Recovery

While it’s important to eat right and exercise regularly, it’s equally as important to do things that will promote mental wellness in recovery. Focusing on your mental health and happiness is the difference between just being sober and genuinely living a fulfilling life in recovery. Achieving mental wellness means taking the time to be present with yourself in order to recognize what you’re doing well and when you might need more help. While everyone will have a different strategy for getting in touch with their inner self, some popular methods of improving mental awareness are:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga

“People seem to feel lighter and happier after they start participating in my meditation and yoga classes,” explains Elian Haan, a yoga and meditation instructor at our facility. “The overall wellness benefits of these activities are things like reduced stress, decreased pain, improved sleep and overall better mental health.” However, Elian also emphasizes that mental health is about more than just checking in with yourself daily. In order to improve your mental wellness after treatment, it’s important to make time every day to do the things that you love. Whatever it is, pencil these important activities into your calendar and stick to it. Committing to do the things that you love every day will only improve your life and your happiness.   “I always encourage people to find what works for them,” Elian concludes. “But whatever that is, find time to take one deep breath a day.”