Why Exercise is Something to Consider in Early Recovery

By Charles O'Connor

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Finding new hobbies and interests can be a struggle for those in early recovery. People in active substance use spend a large portion of their time seeking out, using, and being under the influence of drugs. Once the drug and its associated activities are removed from the users life, many of people find themselves with a glaring problem, a tremendous amount of free time, and very few or no other hobbies or interests to fill their time.

Many of those people recovering from substance use issues end up turning to rigorous physical exercise and this is no coincidence. Most obviously, regular exercise physically strengthens the body and health improves. Beyond the physical benefits however, there are a number of ways that regular exercise can benefit someone in recovery:

  • Exercise relieves Stress There’s a good chance that if you’re new to recovery, you’re dealing with a great deal of stress. Beyond the stressors most are exposed to throughout life, those who have used drugs or alcohol problematically will often have a number of relationships, legal, or medical issues to contend with brought on by the struggle with substances. While in the past a substance was used to cope with stress, exercise is a healthier away to relieve both physical and emotional tension.
  • Exercise changes the chemistry of the brain Are you familiar with the term runners high? While someone in recovery for substance use will refrain from partaking in illicit drug use because of the negative impact it had on their lives, this doesn’t mean they will never have the opportunity to “get a buzz on” again. Aerobic exercise like sprinting has been shown to make the body release endorphins. This causes a natural high of sorts, minus the horrible consequences associated with using drugs.
  • Exercise is a form of Meditation Exercise provides former substance users an opportunity to leave the negative aspects of their lives behind for a while, and direct their attention to moving and exerting themselves physically. Often after a workout, people will be less focused on and less affected by the issues in their lives.
  • Exercise helps build self esteem Many newly sober people will lack confidence because of the havoc they wreaked in the past, because they relied on their drug of choice for confidence, and for a variety of other reasons. Exercise can help your self esteem because of the positive effect it has on brain chemistry. In addition, many people will feel accomplished when they become stronger, their bodies change positively, and they are able to do more at the gym.

Exercise isn’t the only solution if you are attempting to succeed in recovery. Much more is required, such as individualized treatment and a strong support network. However, exercise can be a useful addition to a newly sober persons program of recovery.

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