Exercise and Physical Activity: Building Resilience in Recovery

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You would probably be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not know that exercise and physical activity are beneficial to a person’s overall health and wellness. From doctors to the media, we have heard for our entire lives that exercise is a cornerstone of our physical health. 

Did you know that exercise can also help those in recovery from trauma and addiction? While some benefits are obvious regarding our physical health, such as weight management and increased strength, there are many other benefits that occur below the surface. 

Exercise and the Six Dimensions of Personal Wellness

Many of us in recovery have heard of the six dimensions of personal wellness or some variation of the concept, which emphasizes “whole-self” or “holistic” health. These six dimensions are mental and emotional, physical, spiritual, family systems, relationships, and daily wellness. Whole-self and holistic approaches are a pillar of many recovery programs. In most cases, these dimensions are interconnected and overlap one another. In a whole-self model of recovery, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. 

Exercise certainly helps with our physical health, but it can have an impact on other dimensions of wellness as well. 

Some examples of wellness dimensions that can be impacted by exercising or engaging in physical activity include: 

  • Mental and Emotional Wellness: Regular exercise helps to reduce stress and has a positive impact on our mental wellness. Physical activity also helps people sleep more deeply, which helps us feel “fresh” each day.


  • Relationship Wellness: Physical activity can introduce us to new people, and going for walks can be a shared activity with a friend or loved one. Joining a sports league can help you learn to collaborate on a team. Exercise can be both healthy and fun!
  • Daily Wellness: Having an exercise routine helps to give our lives structure. Finding what time of day works best for you and working within a schedule can help you manage the rest of your daily activities.


Remember that in the whole-self approach, each dimension of wellness will directly or indirectly impact another. Daily exercise or physical activity is something you can do right now, without any special equipment or training to begin taking positive steps in your recovery. For example, you can:

  • Take a walk around the block or in a park
  • Do calisthenics like jumping jacks, push-ups, or sit-ups
  • Work on daily chores, like vacuuming or doing laundry
  • Do basic stretching, like touching your toes or reaching your hands upward

YouTube is full of workout and exercise videos that do not require any equipment. There are also a variety of beneficial activities that may require special equipment or memberships:

  • Weight training with free weights, machines, and/or resistance bands
  • Community exercise classes at a local park
  • Sports leagues, which can include anything from dodgeball to bowling
  • Disc golf (most courses have free admission, you just need to buy discs!)
  • Running or jogging, with proper footwear to prevent injury

Exercise Helps Create a More Positive Mindset

Another pillar of recovery programs that can be strengthened through physical activity is developing a healthy mindset. Exercise helps you to look outward toward a goal that can be measured outside of yourself. With any exercise or workout regime, you start where you are at that moment. You have to accept your current physical abilities first to plan where you want to go. For example, if you want to be a faster runner, you need to know what pace you are starting from. If you want to improve your golf swing, you need to first accept what it is right now.

Accepting your imperfections and your shortcomings is the first step toward self-improvement in both exercise and your overall recovery. Accepting yourself for where you are now will help you practice creating realistic goals for the future. If you run a mile in 12 minutes now, is it realistic to run a mile in six minutes after just a few weeks? Likely not. However, now you can track your progress and see your improvement from week to week by accepting your initial baseline. As you progress toward physical goals, you work on another important pillar of recovery — resilience.

Challenging Ourselves with Exercise Strengthens Our Resolve

Resilience is most simply defined as the ability to recover quickly from adversity or difficulties. Each time you hit the pavement running or lift weights in the gym, your body will get tired and sore. You can strengthen your resolve by challenging yourself through physical activity and thinking about your end goals. Remembering what motivated you to work out in the first place can help you push through the tough times. Then, the resilience built from physical challenges can carry over into other aspects of your recovery. 

You build resilience and a positive mindset by knowing that you are capable of meeting challenges, whether in the gym or at home. Overall, physical activity and exercise will help you with more than just your physical health — you will gain both a healthy body and a healthy mind.

Physical activity and outdoor recreation are a cornerstone component of The Kimberly Center’s approach to recovery. We emphasize three pillars of recovery: whole-self, mindset, and resilience. Clients build their recovery program with various approaches to create a holistic and healthy lifestyle, including wilderness therapy, yoga, exercise, and hiking. Located in beautiful Ft. Myers, Florida, we understand that everyone’s recovery journey is different. We focus on giving you the attention and tools you need to build the confidence and ability to live a substance-free life fostered by your inner strength and a strong support system. We welcome men and women who are struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health issues. Whether you are looking for outpatient, residential, or intensive inpatient treatment, we can provide you with the services you need.  Our compassionate and experienced staff are ready to help you find what works best for you. To learn more, call us today at (855) 452-3683.

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