Exercise in Recovery: When, Why, and How

Published on November 19, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

We all know that exercise is good for us. Staying physically active helps maintain a healthy weight, increases circulation, prevents a wide array of diseases, and improves mental health. Exercise is also a powerful tool for fighting addiction. Many people who undergo treatment for a substance use disorder will be encouraged to establish a regular exercise routine. Whether you are a fitness fanatic or have taken many years off from the gym, exercising during recovery can elevate your mood and fight cravings. However, you may be wondering how an exercise regimen might be different for those in recovery. If you haven’t worked out in a while, you may be wondering how to start. Here are some tips to help you make the most of an active lifestyle during recovery from addiction.

When to Workout

One of the most common excuses for not working out is not having enough time. The truth is that almost everyone has at least thirty minutes a day to get moving. Consider the type of workout you are most interested in, and plan accordingly. Going to the gym or a yoga studio will most likely take more than an hour from your day. On the other hand, going on a run around your neighborhood cuts travel time and works you out quickly and efficiently. Scheduling workouts throughout the week and sticking to that schedule is an excellent habit in recovery for several reasons. Creating structure and healthy habits is a crucial component of a sober lifestyle. Additionally, making a commitment to yourself makes it easier to shut down intrusive thoughts about using drugs or alcohol. It is much harder to talk yourself into drinking, for example, if you know you need to get up at the break of dawn for a morning run.

While you don’t need to work out in the morning, research indicates morning workouts may be the most beneficial. Morning exercise has been shown to keep you more active throughout the day, for instance. It can also burn more fat if you work out on an empty stomach, lower blood pressure, and promote better sleep patterns. Additionally, working out in the morning provides your brain with a boost of feel-good chemicals. This can put you in a great mood and help you to carry a positive outlook throughout your day. These benefits are all especially powerful for those in recovery from addiction.

Why Exercise in Recovery is Important

One of the most immediate benefits of working out regularly in recovery is that it requires a time commitment. Going from active addiction to a sober lifestyle usually means finding creative new ways to occupy your time and energy. Working out can help you fill those voids. Some people might prefer working out in a way that feels quick and efficient. Others might enjoy a long aerobics class or even a four-hour hike that takes time out of their day. After all, this is time that could potentially turn into dangerous boredom. Additionally, living an active lifestyle can help you set goals that rely on your continuing sobriety. For example, you can set an intention to run a 5k or take a backpacking trip six months from now. These goals become one more reason to stay sober.  

On a physical level, working out does fantastic things for your body and mind while in recovery from addiction. Having a substance use disorder means that you have treated your body very poorly, perhaps even for many years. Exercise and proper nutrition are the best ways to pay your body back for all you have put it through and to promote healing. Additionally, heavy drug and alcohol use can cause damage to the brain that decreases cognitive ability and leads to worsening mental health. Regular exercise stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that you may be lacking. Working out also generates new nerve connections in the brain that help get everything up and running again. This can help lessen anxiety, battle depression, and promote healthy sleep, all of which makes addiction recovery a much more enjoyable journey.

How to Begin

Just like every other aspect of recovery, the way you choose to incorporate a workout routine will vary depending on personal ability and preference. If fitness has always been a part of your life, you can use your newfound time and energy to set higher goals and try new ways of moving your body. If, however, you feel you are out of shape and intimidated by the prospect of working out, there is nothing wrong with starting small. Consider taking daily walks with your dog or swimming a few times per week. With time, working out will become a way of life, and you will begin to look forward to exercising. Most importantly, exercise will help you manage your mental health and stay committed to lifelong sobriety.

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.

At Simple Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction. This approach makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community. At Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we dedicate our time to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490