It is easy to find reasons not to get regular exercise. After all, we’re all really busy, right? We have responsibilities at work or school. We have people who are relying on us to do this or that or the other. We hardly allow ourselves any down time—and when we do, we want to curl up with a book or watch our favorite movie or catch the game (wouldn’t it be great if sports counted as exercise for the viewer as well as the participants?). We are already tired, and even the thought of exercising makes us feel even more tired. Imagine how tired we’d feel if we actually did the exercising! And sore! Absolutely nobody wants to be sore.
No doubt about it: Excuses to avoid exercising are easy to come by.
But the reverse is also true: It is easy to come up with excellent reasons to get some exercise.
That is, of course, true for everyone, but it is arguably particularly true for a person in recovery from a substance use disorder. Let’s explore the reasons why.
Benefits of Exercise Are Exciting
When we think about exercising, it is only natural to focus on the physical benefits—increased levels of strength and endurance, help with weight management, more youthful appearance, and the like. And make no mistake: Those benefits of exercise are real. But they are not the only advantages of exercise.
Other benefits for those in recovery include:
- A strengthening of the body’s immune system, which may have been compromised by substance use\
- A boost in overall energy levels and support for more restful sleep, which offers its own set of benefits for those in recovery
- A reduction in cravings that can arise from boredom or a lack of structure
- An improvement in mood and a reduction in symptoms of depression and/or anxiety
- A decrease in the level of chronic pain, lessening the need for potentially problematic painkillers and improving overall quality of life
- For military veterans struggling with substance abuse, a connection to the physical fitness standards necessary for service can provide ongoing motivation in addition to the other benefits listed here
Benefits of Exercise Are Accessible
If you have been in the grips of a substance use disorder, odds are good that you have not focused much on physical fitness. Perhaps you were living a sedentary lifestyle even before you started using drugs or alcohol. You might feel like there is no way to get from where you are to a place in which you are exercising regularly.
But here is some good news: You don’t have to start training for a triathlon in order to see the kinds of benefits we have been talking about. We are not talking about Olympic training levels of exertion.
Instead, we are suggesting that you might start with something as simple as 30 minutes of walking each day. You can even break that up into two 15-minute walks—or even three 10-minute strolls.
From there, you might try adding a bit of strength training. The Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) suggests working all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week using enough resistance or weight that you start to tire after 12 or 15 repetitions. Aerobic activity that gets your heart rate up is also recommended by the HSS.
If you already have a regular exercise program—or if you used to before you began struggling with drugs or alcohol—these suggestions might seem far too light, and you may be ready and able to tackle a more vigorous approach to physical fitness. If so, that’s great.
But no matter what your current level of fitness might be, the message is the same: Any level of exercise is better than no exercise at all—and the potential benefits can help a person in recovery stave off a relapse.
So, find an activity you enjoy and can stick with, set a schedule, and maybe find a pal who wants to start exercising, too. Track your progress but don’t obsess about the outcomes. Instead, focus on the journey and enjoy the benefits for your recovery. And don’t forget to reward yourself now and again. Doing the right thing for your recovery is always worth celebrating.
Ready to Work Out Your Substance Use Issues? We Are Here to Help.
At The Farley Center, we know that a substance use disorder upends your entire life. We also know how to help. We have the expertise, experience, and compassion necessary to personalize a treatment plan. We can help you reclaim both your sobriety and your life. Getting sober is no meaningless exercise. It is the first essential step on your recovery journey.