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The Second Dimension of Recovery: Physical

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

Recently, I wrote about the first dimension of recovery, the clinical, which focuses on the symptoms that you may experience, like depression or cravings. Support for this dimension includes medications that your psychiatrist may prescribe and/or behavioral and talk therapy with your counselor, psychologist, or social worker.

In this post, I will focus on the second dimension of recovery, which is physical. Physical recovery encompasses improvements to physical health and well-being, including fitness, diet, eating habits, sleep, smoking, and mindfulness.

Research has shown that physical activity and proper nutrition can benefit all of us, especially those of us in recovery. Some benefits of regular physical activity that it:

  • Increases self-esteem and confidence

  • Releases serotonin

  • Provides structure

  • Decreases boredom

  • Improves sleep habits

  • Relieves stress

  • Improves circulation

  • Changes outlook on life

  • Improves mental health

  • Inspires overall wellness.

Health professionals recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. This could be going for a walk, riding a bike, going to the gym, doing yoga, lifting weights, stretching, gardening, raking leaves, etc. Don’t be afraid to try a new activity and to ask friends to come along with you. Having a workout partner can help to keep you accountable and can make it more enjoyable.

Proper nutrition is as important to good health as physical activity. Without feeding our bodies properly we are not able to physically exert ourselves, and even showing up for our basic responsibilities can become difficult. Although proper nutrition can vary somewhat from person-to-person, there are some key components to eating well that we should all keep in mind.

  • Drink water: It is essential to make sure that we drink enough water, especially in the beginning of recovery. Water helps to flush out toxins from the body. It also helps to protect your spinal cord, joints, and tissues; aids in digestion; helps your brain function; and, keeps your cardiovascular system healthy.

  • Pay attention to what you eat: While active in addiction, it may have been common to skip meals and grab the quickest and easiest foods available. It is important to make sure that you are eating enough and that you are eating balanced meals. Focus on eating from all of the food groups; vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy, grains, and fats. Each of these groups have important nutrients that assist your body in its functioning.

  • Limit fast foods and sugars: Too much of either of these can lead to sluggishness, headaches, depression, and other long term negative health consequences.

  • Plan your meals: I’ve found that if I plan ahead I am less likely to grab fast food or unhealthy snacks. I like to create a list of meals for the week and do my grocery shopping on the weekend.

Remember that you are not alone when working on your physical wellness. Seek help and input from professionals like psychiatrists, primary physicians, physical trainers, nutritionists, and addictions counselors. It is always important to make sure you are medically cleared before starting a new exercise regime.

If you’d like to learn more about the five dimensions of recovery, read this article by Dr. Rob Whitley and Dr. Robert E. Drake.

Download our Physical Dimension of Recovery Worksheet:

Physical Dimension of Recovery Worksheet
Download DOCX • 14KB


Diet and Exercise Play a Vital Role in Addiction Recovery, n.d..

7 Health Benefits of Water Backed by Scientific Research, 2020.

Kayla Zawislak is the Lead Engagement Specialist at the Addiction Policy Forum. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.


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