woman working out shows importance of exercise in recovery

The Importance Of Exercise In Recovery

By Olivia Pennelle


When I landed in recovery, I was 150 overweight. I had drank, binged, and drugged my way to 300 pounds. Despite being in recovery, I was crippled with exhaustion, lethargy, anxiety and depression.


Once that pink fluffy cloud of being clean and sober had lifted, I was faced with the misery I felt about my weight, and I was sick and tired of feeling exhausted all-the-time. I was eating in a way that was synonymous with addiction; I felt miserable and depressed, so I used food to make myself feel better.


What has been typical of my recovery is a continuous process of shedding the external things that keep me from my truest self. First, drugs and alcohol, then cigarettes, then food. All of which I used to fill the chasm of where my addiction lay. This is the most basic way I can describe addiction: an aching abyss which I was trying to fill. No matter how much external fixes I piled in that gorge, I could never fill it. I still can’t. Today, I have learned to fill it with truth, spiritual wellness, a connection to the universe, as well as a few practical activities.


Reaching that realization took several years. I decided to tackle my weight at around 2 years clean and sober. I had reached a place of surrender. I did the same thing I did when I decided to get help with my addiction: I asked for help.


I worked one-on-one with a health coach, a truly wonderful woman for a year. I know this is not possible for everyone, so over the coming weeks, and months, I will share the steps that I took to lose 50 pounds and live a truly healthy life, where I feel great, most days. First up:


Exercise in Recovery

Exercising is a fundamental part of my recovery program. The benefits are huge.


Here are a few you can expect:

1. Exercise improves your mood by releasing feel-good hormones which alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression. Used in the first few weeks of recovery, it can help cushion the negative effects of stopping using.

2. Exercise in recovery can help you lose weight. Not only will it burn calories, but It can help to suppress your appetite.

3. I set myself a challenge of running 5k. I hadn’t run since school even then I hated it. Yet, this became my biggest stress reliever. I cannot explain the power of the endorphins I get when running. It switches off my brain and it’s just me running; left-right-left-right. I love it.

4. Exercise promotes better sleep; it is easier to get to sleep and you get a deeper sleep.

5. Exercise can improve health conditions, such as high cholesterol, and it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

6. Exercise can increase energy through the oxygenation of the cardiovascular system, which can lead to increased muscle strength.


Not only did exercise help me achieve my goal of losing weight, but it was a really effective stress reliever. Looking back, it was my depression, and inability to deal with life stresses that lead me to use. I was so surprised that something so simple, exercise in recovery, which can take as little as twenty minutes per day, could help me cope with life, and lose weight.

For someone who hadn’t really been enthused by exercise, it’s mere suggestion, was daunting. I had never really enjoyed sports at school and I only went to the gym to earn calories to drink. I knew that I would need a new strategy to easily incorporate it into my life. After all, if it wasn’t workable and sustainable, it was unlikely to stick.


Here are the steps to incorporate exercise in recovery

1. I bought a pedometer and immediately began walking 10,000 steps a day. Using the pedometer made it more of a challenge and less of a chore. I got off the bus earlier, chose to take the stairs instead of lift, walked around the mall, went for a walk around a local park at lunchtime, found country walks I could do at the weekend.

2. I bought a bike and gave up my bus pass. It became my primary mode of transport. Even though I hadn’t cycled since being a teenager, I picked it right back up and fell in love with it. I cycle everywhere now. I even go on bike rides for fun! I never thought that would happen!

3. I set myself a challenge of running 5k. I hadn’t run since school even then I hated it. Yet, this became my biggest stress reliever. I cannot explain the power of the endorphins I get when running. It switches off my brain and it’s just me running; left-right-left-right. I love it.

4. I found a yoga class that I enjoy. For so long I told myself that I was too fat for yoga. Yet, when I overcame my fear, the teacher told me that I was more flexible than most people in the class. I just had to find the right class for me; that is yin or restorative yoga. It is simply blissful.

5. I lift heavy weights. Not only is it another great stress reliever, it is a great challenge! I never quite released my strength. I can now lift an entire human with my legs!

Being able to undertake these activities in a challenging way, made exercise enjoyable. I just needed to change my perspective from it being a chore to being a challenge.

Next in this series, I’ll share how recovery is so much more than stopping using/drinking: we discover how our physical self changes.


If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and need treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you.PLEASE CALL 855-816-8826. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.



Writer, blogger, nutrition and recovery advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Livs Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery bloggers and published on websites such as: The Fix, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri, Intervene, Workit Sapling, Addiction Unscripted and Transformation is Real.


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