Can Fitness Condition Us Against Relapse?

Published on June 10, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Unfortunately, many jobs in today’s society blend mental exhaustion with physical exhaustion. For first responders in recovery, the end of a long shift means total exhaustion. Their jobs may physically wear them down, but just because first responders end a shift feeling tired doesn’t mean they are experiencing the benefits of a full range of fitness. First responders in recovery can feel as if they don’t have the time they would like to focus on fitness.

It is also natural for alumni who have been in recovery for more than a year to flirt with relapsing once a sober lifestyle begins to feel routine. As anyone with a regular workout routine can attest, their quality of life and general happiness greatly improves with a fitness regiment. It can also be difficult to perceive this difference when exercise is put on the back burner of priorities.

Before going into the benefits of fitness for first responders in prolonged recovery, one of the main questions many ask is whether or not fitness can enhance their willpower in avoiding relapse. Realistically, this will be different for everyone. There is no one answer to unlock an easy track to sober living.

Studies have found plenty of positive mental and physical health benefits resulting from physical exercise, yet nothing will ever guarantee sobriety. This is merely a resource to consider when developing your own routine to empower your recovery. The important takeaway, ultimately, is to listen to your honest self and do what you find works.

Mental Health Benefits

A study as early as 1974, published in the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, found an 84-day exercise program decreased participants’ likelihood to outwardly project blame while making them less likely to exhibit antisocial behaviors. Overcoming obstacles—whether during a workout, a professional challenge, or the mastery of an artistic skill—floods the brain with reward endorphins.

Hidden within each challenge is an opportunity. When you believe in yourself and accomplish a goal, it disproves a deep-seated truth we all feel at some point: that we are inadequate. Choosing positivity increases self-confidence, which can benefit our experience of social interactions as well.

The same study noted a decrease in anxiety and depression among physical fitness program participants after a period lasting less than three months. Like sobriety, working towards a fitness goal—uniquely catering to each individual—allows us to experience incremental progress. This is the idea that, although a half-mile jog might not instantly drop the runner’s resting heart-rate, believing in chipping away at a goal over a long period of time builds up mental fortitude.

Setting a goal can feel daunting, regardless of the goal itself. Guaranteed, there will be days when that goal feels far away. There will also be days that the goal seems like a walk in the park, and maybe it literally is! In this lies an important truth about our sobriety: there will inevitably be ups and downs. The difficulty lies in maintaining that sense of smooth sailing, and remembering the storm will pass when the water gets choppy.

Physical Health Benefits

Exercise may not seem like the most fun activity, especially when we are surrounded by endless forms of entertainment. There is no way to argue that doing pushups sounds better than watching a cat video during a fifteen-minute break. Yet for first responders, these sporadic windows of free time can be opportunities to give our bodies what they really need. It might not be as easy as pulling a phone out of your front pocket, but taking that time to check in with your aches and pains could help with longevity and circulation later in life.

By no means is it recommended to strain yourself beyond your own limits. However, these physical check-ins can be as simple as stretching, or breathing exercises. Chances are that every muscle group you use during your job experiences fatigue at some point in your career. Taking a few minutes that you might otherwise use to make small-talk or scroll through a social media platform assists the recovery of an overused muscle, joint, and cardiovascular systems.

Committing to work through sore areas in the body promotes mindful habits. Mindfulness requires individuals to focus on the present, which can, in turn, reduce stress. Much like committing to sobriety, practices in mindfulness require a high level of honesty. Being honest about the limits of our bodies can be just as humbling as the vulnerability we access in coming to terms with our addictions.

Fitness is a choice. The willpower required in honoring a commitment to physical health empowers us to remain strong during recovery. You can build this willpower brick-by-brick, one day at a time.

Staying sober means staying active mentally and physically. Exercise helps us connect with nature, allowing us to appreciate the outside world and letting go of the stresses within our individual perspectives. Recreation Therapy slowly introduces clients back into the larger community and bridges the gap between treatment and real-life interactions. Recreation Therapy is vital to teaching clients that being sober does not mean being boring. Some of the activities we offer include surfing, hiking, CrossFit, camping, rock climbing, and more. Clients always find activities they are passionate about, and as a result, they begin to see how to fill the time that used to be spent drinking and/or using. If you or your loved ones are ready to begin living alcohol and substance-free lives, please call our admissions staff at (866) 399-6528.