5 Ways That Exercise Can Help You Stay Sober

Exercise is getting a lot of attention for its role in addiction recovery. As treatment centers continue along the trend of including fitness in their recovery plans, scientists are asking whether working out with a personal trainer or on your own can really help addicts stick to sobriety. And overwhelmingly, they’re discovering that the answer is yes. Here are five recovery challenges that exercise makes easier: 

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How Fitness Helps With Addiction Recovery

1. Establishing a Routine
After emerging from a lifestyle where each day revolved around finding opportunities to use, recovering addicts sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by free time. After all, idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and an unoccupied mind can easily wander to cravings. An exercise regimen brings structure to each day so it’s easier to stay occupied and stay on track.

2. Managing Anger Issues
Anger and irritability are common in recovering addicts. After months and years of using drugs and alcohol as a crutch to deal with negative thoughts and feelings, the sober addict lacks the tools to properly manage his emotions. Considering that recovery itself can be highly stressful and anger is a trigger for relapse, managing anger issues is crucial for a successful recovery. Since exercise reduces stress and improves mood, it’s a valuable tool for getting past negative emotions.

3. Overcoming Cravings
Everyone needs a game plan for dealing with cravings in recovery.  According to SMART Recovery, the best craving busters help you delay, escape, or substitute your urge to use. Exercise does all three; if you dive into yoga poses or go on a run when cravings hit, you buy yourself time for the compulsion to pass. Getting out of your current setting for a walk or jog is an effective escape from triggers, and since exercise releases mood-boosting endorphins, it’s also an effective substitute for drugs or alcohol.

4. Healing Physical Damage
Addiction recovery isn’t just a mental struggle. Your physical health needs to recover from the ravages of active addiction, and an exercise regimen is the best way to build strength and stamina for a healthier body. However, it’s important to start slowly and under the supervision of a doctor, as substance abuse can leave your cardiovascular and respiratory systems weakened.

5. Building Self-Confidence
When you’re just starting recovery, 30 days feels like a lifetime. It’s normal for confidence to waver as you work toward each goal post, especially when you’re just starting out and don’t have much momentum under your feet. Pairing your recovery goals with fitness goals is a great way to keep morale up as you work toward long-term sobriety. Each time you accomplish a fitness objective, you’re building self-esteem that translates to greater success in your recovery goals.

It’s clear that exercise has a lot to offer recovering addicts, but committing to an exercise regimen is easier said than done. Use these tips to make your new habit stick:

  • Take it one day at a time. Like addiction recovery, fitness progress comes in incremental measures. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much at first. Instead, find the workout plan that satisfies your goals, start where you’re comfortable, and work from there.
  • Set small goals. If your goal is to run a 5K and you can barely walk around the block, there’s a good chance you’ll give up before you ever get there. While you shouldn’t forget your big goals, setting smaller targets along the way will keep your motivation up.
  • Choose an activity you like. The best workout plan isn’t the one that could get you the fittest, it’s the one you can stick to. Instead of dabbling in exercise trends only to lose interest, find an activity you actually enjoy.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Instead of only working out when you feel like it, schedule your exercise and hold yourself accountable to following through. Sharing your goals with supportive friends and tracking your progress can keep you motivated to work out. According to The Atlantic, putting money on the line is an especially effective way to get yourself to lace up and hit the gym.
  • Hire a personal trainer. If you have trouble holding yourself accountable, hiring a personal trainer can be a big help. They'll work with you to create health goals and give you structure that will make getting clean much easier.

Exercise should be a part of everyone’s life, but it’s especially important for people facing the challenge of addiction recovery. If you’re working toward sobriety and haven’t yet included fitness in your treatment plan, let this information be the push you need to start. 

This guest post comes to us from Susan Treadway at RehabHolistics.com.

Asher Weinstein