Exercise Can Help Your Sobriety as Well as Your Health


Photo by Christopher Campbell at Unsplash

When you’re feeling bad and going through addiction recovery, getting out and exercising doesn’t sound like fun. Just getting out of bed seems like a major accomplishment.

But beginning an exercise regimen can make a major difference in your road to recovery. Fitness gives you a new obsession to focus on and a feeling of confidence you likely haven’t had before.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol contribute to the death of more than 90,000 Americans per year, while tobacco is linked to an estimated 480,000 deaths per year. According to Dr. Nora Volkow in the National Institutes of Health newsletter, understanding how we create damaging routines can help us know how to create healthful routines. “When behaviors become automatic, it gives us an advantage, because the brain does not have to use conscious thought to perform the activity,” she said. That includes fitness. Studies have shown that having a fitness routine can prevent the adoption of addictive behaviors, so it stands to reason that creating one can also help addicts break the addiction cycle.

Exercise also has positive effects on your brain. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise is vital for keeping your mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving concentration, and enhancing overall brain function. It’s even more helpful when stress has made it difficult to concentrate or you feel out of energy. Even five minutes of exercise can alleviate anxiety, the association said.

A lot of fitness groups designed specifically to help addicts stay clean have been created around the country, many by former addicts themselves. They know that fitness can be a strong motivator and keep recovering addicts away from damaging habits.

Even if you can’t find a group in your area to join, you don’t have to put off adding fitness to your life. You can start by just taking a walk down the street. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel. Talk to your doctor or addiction counselor about determining your physical ability and adding a fitness routine and what types of exercise might be best for you.

If walking isn’t energetic enough for you, take it up a notch. Start running, even if you can only run from one driveway to the next. Walk for a few driveways, then run to another one. Eventually, you’ll find you can run past more than one front lawn, and so on. There are also many couch-to-5k programs you can follow, and lots of apps are available for download that can help you on your journey.

Find a buddy to work out with. Having a workout partner not only helps you stay motivated, it provides you with someone to talk to. If that person is a recovering addict, all the better. Walking and talking can be some of the best therapy you can get. By joining a local gym, you’ll have the opportunity to meet new people and forge new relationships, which can also assist you on your road to recovery. These new, healthy, connections will serve as the foundation for your drug-free life and replace the old “friendships” that got you into trouble.

Consider several different types of exercise, and if one doesn’t work for you, try another. Team sports are a great way to get moving. These include softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and more. All will get your heart rate up and give you a social outlet. Other good options are golf, disc golf, swimming, dancing, fencing, skiing, bowling, surfing, boxing, and the like. Anything that gets your body moving and focuses your mind on something other than your addiction is positive.

Whatever you try, give it some time to make sure it’s a good fit. Don’t just give up because it’s not easy. Things that are good for you are often difficult at first. The self-confidence you’ll get from your efforts will be well worth it.