Exercise is a key aspect of health for everyone, but it’s especially relevant for people in recovery. Whether you’ve been sober for a while now or you’re still in the beginning stages, exercise will help your mind, body, and spirit. Here are some tidbits to persuade you to get off of the couch and into action. (It’s hard, we know, but so worth it!)
1. Easy. Exercise is free, can be done just about anywhere, and doesn’t need to be complicated. You can start where you’re at so you don’t feel overwhelmed. This may mean a five minute walk, thirty minutes of yoga, or an intense Crossfit class. Do what works for you and don’t get discouraged by comparing yourself to others or even to your previous level of fitness. It’s about the process, not the end goal. As always, focus on progress, not perfection.
2. Restore. There is plenty of research showing that exercise can help to restore dopamine levels to pre-addiction functioning. Your body is often very out of whack after the roller coaster of addiction and it needs a lot of support from you to get it back to a healthy homeostasis. Exercise will speed up this process and make you feel good in the meantime. Dopamine and other “happy” neurotransmitters account for that post workout glow, so even if you dread doing it, you’ll feel awesome when you’re done (or even halfway through!). Bonus: Many people aren’t the best at keeping up their physique when using or drinking. You’ll be encouraged by your reflection in the mirror as well. Keep in mind this is just a pleasant byproduct of exercising in recovery, not the point.
3. De-stress. Exercise is one of the most researched, empirically-supported coping skills for stress and anxiety. It calms nerves, relieves stress, and makes us more relaxed overall. Sometimes the most helpful things are the things we least want to do, and exercise falls into this category for many people. Get some good tunes on your Spotify and get moving, and you’ll feel more relaxed and energized in no time. Exercise such as yoga that incorporates the mind can also help to cultivate mindfulness. Note: Always consult a doctor prior to exercising to make sure you’re healthy enough for rigorous physical activity.
4. Sleep. For many people in early recovery, sleep can be rather elusive and frustrating. Exercise can help tire you out in a healthy way during the day, making it easier to get restorative sleep at night. Exercising at the same time can help your circadian rhythm get back on track. This natural rhythm is disrupted during addiction and it takes time to normalize. Exercise can assist in this process.
5. Routine. Exercise can help you with a healthy routine. When we put energy into healthy things such as staying organized, staying on a schedule, waking up and going to sleep at a reasonable time, eating healthy, and exercising, these things combine together to have a synergistic effect. Planning to exercise helps us stick to a healthy schedule and gives our mind less time to wander. This is very valuable in early recovery when boredom and uncertainty make relaxation more difficult.
At AToN, we have a great appreciation for the positive effects of exercise in early recovery. That’s why we have personal trainers, yoga, and plenty of gym time for our residents. If you have physical limitations, we will work with you to create an individualized fitness routine that meets your unique needs. We believe in healing the whole self, and we know exercise is an important piece of the puzzle.
What are your favorite exercise activities? How has being active helped you in recovery?
Dr. Sarah Zucker
AToN Center 888-535-1516