Going out on a limb here, but it is probably safe to say that many of us didn’t worry too much about hitting the gym or eating a balanced diet during our addiction. When we were all consumed by the need to get more, everything else fell to the wayside.
Once we make the decision to enter inpatient treatment to get better, it is natural that we look for the easy methods to feeling healthy quick. For many people that means a laundry list of medications, helpful in the beginning, but habit forming over time.
A key ingredient for an early recovery that is balanced, healthy, and emotionally stable, is adding exercise into the agenda.
The Different Ways to Work Out
Lifting weights, although meditative and purposeful, is sometimes not for everyone. If we are being honest, gym memberships can get expensive, and people in early recovery aren’t really known for their massive incomes.
So what are some other, fun ways to stay active in the early days? Well, it depends on where you live!
Beach people can explore paddle boarding and surfing, as day rentals to use the boards usually won’t break the bank, or find a sober friend who already has the gear! Beach running can be a very meditative exercise and is totally free. Yoga on the beach can be free if you check out any of the free videos on youtube or invest the few dollars into a yoga app.
Those who live near the mountains or forests and rivers have a plethora of options. I discovered rock climbing in sobriety and am hooked. There is also:
- Mountain biking
- Fly fishing
- Trail running
It is possible that you might want to get involved in these activities but don’t have the cash to buy the gear or just don’t know where to start. Asking around in the rooms is a great way to make sober friends who share the same interests and will be happy to show you the ropes out there.
The Physical Benefits of Exercise
Early Recovery is well known to be an emotional roller coaster. It makes sense! We put down the drugs and all of a sudden we start to feel feelings again. It can be overwhelming to have all these emotions and no healthy outlet for them.
- Exercise helps fight off depression and anxiety.
Engaging our bodies and getting our blood pumping and our heart rate up boosts serotonin production in the brain. Adding exercise can help reduce the need for unnecessary medications and help lessen symptoms of post-acute withdrawal.
- Exercise helps you sleep better
Studies show that the body undergoes a drop in temperature after moderate exercise (i.e., walking, jogging) which is a natural indicator to the brain that it is time to sleep. Taking a walk an hour before bed can help you fall asleep faster. Since exercise reduces anxiety, people who struggle with insomnia were found to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer if they exercised during the day.
- Exercise boosts confidence
Early recovery can be a time fueled by self-doubt and insecurity while we discover who we are without drugs and alcohol. Participating in an activity that makes us feel good about ourselves, while also boosting serotonin, makes us feel proud of ourselves, passionate about something, and excited to do something every day. It might sound crazy, but finding healthy hobbies often gives us a feeling of purpose.
- Exercise can connect us to others
In the town where I live, we have started a Sober Climbing group – most of us have already been friends from meetings and climbing, but we hold an unofficial meeting at the climbing gym every Friday night. After the meeting, we all climb together for a few hours and then grab dinner. We have had several newcomers who wanted to get into the sport showing up now for a few months, and they have come on outdoor climbing trips and weekend climb/camping trips with us.
Finding a community of sober people who also enjoy the same hobbies gives you a feeling of connection in recovery that extends outside of just meetings. Knowing that you can go into the world, do what you love, with people on the same path creates a wonderful feeling of gratitude and fellowship. Many of those individuals have expressed that the times they feel closest to their higher power is out on a climbing trip, in nature, with sober friends.
- Exercise alleviates symptoms of PAWS
If you have felt clumsy, lethargic, sad, or confused a lot in your early recovery, it is probably a symptom of your post-acute withdrawals. Don’t worry, you are not doomed to feel that way forever! However, exercise has been proven to improve hand-eye coordination, increase energy levels, and create focus and clarity. Exercising at least a little bit every day can get you out of the PAWS phase way faster!
21 Days for a Habit
Since many of us have lived for so long with only unhealthy habits, it can feel pretty intimidating to start a new one. Unfortunately, many people in early recovery are so consumed by self-doubt and fear, they never take the opportunity to try new things, with new people.
Many of us fear failure, so we don’t try at all. When we enter into recovery, we are walking into a whole new world, where we have the opportunity to entirely re-create who we are as people and how we contribute to the world. Even if the most you can contribute today is being more pleasant because you got some exercise, that is still enough.
“They,” say it only takes 21 days to create a habit. If you want that habit to be lifting weights, or if you would rather it be yoga, the point is that you start where you are. Walk through the self-doubt, and come out the other side, proud, stronger, and happier. Reach out to people in the rooms and ask for a buddy if that is what you need in order to get started. The point is that you get started!