Running For Addiction Recovery: The Benefits of an Exercise Routine

addiction recovery

If you’ve struggled with addiction, recovery is a tough path. So cutting yourself off from your harmful habits is an incredible accomplishment.

However, once you’ve detoxed from drugs and alcohol and completed your rehabilitation program, you still have a long way to go. During addiction recovery, you’ll feel tempted to slip back into your old ways.

In order to truly recover, you need to create positive patterns of behavior. A great way to do this is to start an exercise routine. This article highlights the benefits of getting regular exercise when you’re an ex-addict.

Benefits of Exercise for Addiction Recovery

Here are a few reasons why picking up any type of physical activity is good for both your mind and body.

It Fills up Empty Time

When you’re an addict or an alcoholic, you spend a lot of your time trying to acquire drugs or trying to get money for it. Most addicts find they have an incredible amount of free time at their disposal after they stop using.

You might have spent hours every day gathering enough money to visit your dealer. Once you make the decision to give that habit up, all of that time is now free.

Recovering addicts and an excessive amount of free time don’t go well together; this is why it’s important for you to find something to fill that space.

It Provides You with Structure

Daily exercise is great because it provides you with more structure in your life and it also helps you find something to fill up your free time. When you exercise every day, you start a new pattern of behavior that can help you to break out of the patterns you were living previously as an addict.

Once you get into the habit of exercising every day and get used to the health benefits it can provide, you develop a great reason not to slip back into your old ways. Let’s say you usually enjoy an early morning run; this provides great motivation for you not to drink the night before.

It Doesn’t Need to Be Complex

Doing exercise to recover from drug or alcohol addiction doesn’t need to be complicated. Sure, some people might get great results by training for and running a marathon, but you don’t need to make such a huge commitment.

Something as simple as doing 30 minutes of walking a day can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health. Don’t feel like you need to commit to something extreme like rock climbing or running marathons. Sometimes, it’s best to start small, such as walking a route around your neighborhood.

Once you start to feel the benefits of this kind of exercise, you could consider branching out to something else.

It’ll Rewire Your Brain

If you have abused drugs or alcohol to the point you’ve become an addict, your brain’s severely impacted. When you do things like eat food or exercise, your brain produces neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. This makes you feel good and motivates you to keep on doing the action that brought about the feeling.

When you’re an addict, you can gain instant and intense gratification from your drug of choice. This can have a serious effect on the “reward” system in your brain.

When you get enough exercise, this can help to speed up the healing process of the body. Eventually, the reward system of your brain will begin to restore itself with the help of physical activity.

You Can Meet New People

Not only do ex-addicts have a lot of time on their hands, but they might also not have many friends left. When you’re using, you often only interact with other people who are using the same kind of drugs like you.

Often, these friendships are based on drugs or alcohol. If it wasn’t for your addictions, you wouldn’t have anything in common.

When you decide to recover from your addictions, you might have to cut people out of your life. In some cases, this could result in you not really having much of a social network anymore.

Human beings are inherently social creatures; if you isolate yourself from society, it’ll make it more difficult for you to successfully get sober. You might want to consider getting into exercise by playing some kind of team sport.

When you commit to an exercise routine involving a team sport, it can do wonders for your addiction recovery. It gives you the chance to make some new friends and gives you a sense of responsibility. If you relapse, you won’t only be letting yourself down, you’ll also be letting your team down.

You’ll Get a New Hobby

Addicts generally don’t have much in the way of hobbies. Being an addict takes up so much of your time and attention that it’s difficult to commit to any other activity. When you’re in a serious state of addiction, it’s difficult to learn anything new; you fall into a cycle where you don’t really develop.

After your addiction recovery is a great time to get into a new hobby. Within a few weeks of getting clean, you’ll start to feel a sense of mental clarity. This means you’re capable of things you never would’ve been able to do when you were still using.

A lot of addicts are very passionate people, but their passion is unfortunately misdirected toward self-destruction. Once you get sober, you’ll need to find an outlet for your passion.

Some people accomplish this through writing or making art, but many people have found success in sports and competitions. If you need to find an outlet, considering giving various kinds of exercise and sports a try.

You Get the Right Kind of High

There are plenty of ways to experience a natural high and getting exercise is one of them. Long distance runners often experience a runner’s high and you might also get a natural high from winning in a competitive setting.

Taking part in a sport or running a marathon is a great way to feel good naturally. It also helps you focus and live in the moment without distractions.

If you feel tempted to use or drink again, try going for a run or a bike ride. Once your blood starts flowing, you’ll experience a change in your mindset. If you continue to exercise whenever you feel like using, it can help to break the cycle of addiction.

You’ll Get Prepared for the Workplace

Addicts have a hard time holding down a job. After you’ve completed your recovery, there’s a good chance you’re going to be unemployed.

When you’ve been unemployed for a long time, it can make it difficult to get up on time and stick to a schedule. If you schedule an early morning run every day, this can help you to get into the right routine and mindset for reentering the workforce.

If you’re trying to practice self-improvement, it helps to have a good routine. When you have a good routine established, it reinforces a positive pattern of behavior.

People become addicts because they fall into negative patterns of behavior. Once you get into a downward spiral, it can be very difficult to get out.

On a positive note, the opposite of this is also true. If you get a good exercise routine going, it becomes harder and harder for you to fall back into negative patterns of behavior. When you’re able to get up at the same time every morning and keep a normal routine, you’ll be much better equipped to start working a new job.

You’ll Get a Sense of Achievement

When you’re an addict, you probably aren’t achieving much you’re proud of. When you get into an exercise routine, not only is it going to help you to feel great, but you’ll also have something to achieve.

For example, you might be able to slowly bring down your running time. Feeling like you’ve achieved something is an effective way to change your outlook and help you to stay on the right path. When you have achievements to look back on, it makes it a lot easier to resist falling back into using.

Exercise Activities to Consider

Here are some of the ways you can exercise and improve your chances of staying clean.

Running

Running is a great way to exercise; the barrier for entry is low. All you need is some good footwear and the appropriate clothes.

You don’t need a gym membership to run. In fact, you can probably run in the area around your house.

You can even run at home by investing in a treadmill. This might be worth it if you live in an area with poor weather.

The great thing about running is you can also combine it with some other activities. If you run on a treadmill, you could watch TV shows or movies while you run. When you run outside, you can also listen to podcasts and music, but do take care to look out for your surroundings.

You can run casually or you can take it a bit more seriously by training to be a long distance runner. Successfully completing a marathon is an incredible achievement.

Walking

Walking is probably the most accessible form of exercise there is. You don’t need any special clothing or footwear, but it does help to have a comfortable set of sneakers or boots to wear.

The great thing about walking is it doesn’t have to be an exercise for the sake of exercise. You can incorporate walking into your daily routine.

Maybe instead of taking the bus every morning, you could walk instead. Not only do you get some exercise, but you also save yourself money.

Biking

This is another one that can easily become more than just exercise. Depending on where you live, cycling could become your primary means of getting around.

Of course, you’ll need to own a bike. You don’t necessarily need an expensive “racing” bike to get a good amount of exercise. Pretty much any bike will have you burning calories in no time.

Swimming

Swimming can be a really fun way to get some exercise. If you have a good pool near you, this is one to consider.

Swimming can also help if you have any health issues that make things like running difficult. For example, you might have problems with your knee. Swimming is much more low impact than running so it might suit you better.

Tennis

A great way to increase your motivation to exercise is to get involved with other people. Sports like tennis are relatively easy to get into; you only need one other person to play a game.

Tennis is quite an active game; you’ll get a lot of exercise playing it. There’s also a competitive element that you don’t get when you’re running by yourself.

If you’re focused on beating your friend in a game like tennis, it helps you to focus on making positive changes in your life. If your addictions have ruined your relationship with someone, playing tennis with them could be a great way to reconnect and to keep yourself focused on your recovery.

Soccer

Soccer is a fun competitive sport. Getting a soccer game going is probably going to be a bit more complicated than setting up something like tennis.

Consider seeing if your local area has any amateur leagues you can take part in. Often, these leagues welcome players of all skill levels.

Stay Active and Healthy

As you can see, there are a lot of options available to you for exercise while you’re in addiction recovery. Not only can physical activity keep you busy, but it can also improve your overall wellbeing.

So if you’re struggling with recovery, exercise may be a good option to explore. In most cases, exercise is free, so you don’t need to spend any extra cash to get a good workout in.

Need help with recovery? Then check out our recovery management program.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.