Use Exercise in Recovery to Help you Beat Addictions

Use Exercise in Recovery to Help you Beat Addictions


recovering addict stretching

“How can exercise benefit me in my recovery?”

I’m not sure where I first read this, but at the time it was a real revelation for me–the idea that your physical self is just as much a part of your spiritual being as anything else. When we are talking about recovery, spiritual principles, emotional health, and those types of things, your physical body is another critical factor in the equation. People might talk about diet and exercise and nutrition and how important those things are, and we sort of nod our heads and agree. In my search for recovery, it seems that I have always minimized these things, I dismissed them as being unimportant. And now I can see that virtually everyone else dismisses the physical body as well. They pay lip service to the fact that exercise routinely outperforms antidepressants in controlled studies, yet they do not seem to advocate exercise in light of this fact.

Exercise as a Spiritual Concept

For me, early recovery involved detox, followed by “okay, now how do I stay quit without going crazy?” My problem was staying quit, and I believed that the solution was entirely “spiritual.” I was convinced that I needed spiritual guidance, psychological therapy, or possibly group support to overcome this diseased thinking of mine. Any mention of a physical component (like a suggestion of regular exercise) was met with the usual nodding of the head.
There was a clear separation here. My problem was mental and spiritual. I believed that, following detox, my physical body had nothing to do with recovery. At the very least, I regarded physical issues such as health, diet, and exercise to be distant, unimportant issues. They were not critical to maintaining recovery in my opinion.

As I have stayed clean in recovery, my opinion about this has slowly changed. Call it an awakening of all things physical–I now realize that my regular jogging routine probably has as much to do with how “happy” I consider myself to be as my “emotional well being” or my “spiritual centeredness.” Or rather, I have come to realize that this exercise, this physical dimension–adds a whole lot more to my “spiritual centeredness and emotional well being” than I used to give credit for. Regular vigorous exercise is spiritual, in addition to the regular health benefits received by it.

To some extent, we can argue over words a bit here if we want to. We could say that the physical component is just as important as any spiritual or emotional component might be. Or, we could say that our physical self is a part of our spiritual being. Either way, my revelation is that I used to minimize the physical component when it came to recovery–and now I am very much aware of what a difference it has made in the long run.

Make a Commitment to Yourself

My suggestion to you: make a commitment to exercise on a regular basis. Specifically, I recommend that you start out by walking a set distance, three times a week. The distance you go is less critical than the time you spend doing it and whether or not it gets your heart rate going. What I’m advocating here is simply aerobic exercise. The idea is to do something, such as continuous walking or jogging, so that you get “pumped up” and get your adrenaline flowing. Doing so on a regular basis (like 3 times a week) will provide you with tremendous health benefits on a number of different levels. The research is out there–I haven’t even scratched the surface here. I just know what this exercise commitment has done for me, and how much better it has made me feel.

I would suggest between 30 and 60 minutes of continuous walking. Make it a rather short and reasonable distance at first–but enough to get your heart rate up a bit. If walking doesn’t do that for you, then try some light jogging. Consult your doctor first, of course, but make a commitment to get out there and start moving your body. Don’t allow yourself to miss a day; stick to your schedule, and slowly increase your distance. If you can only walk a mile at first, that is fine. Getting your heart rate up is what is beneficial. As you continue to walk (or jog), you should be able to slowly increase the distance traveled or time spent exercising. Remember, your target goal should be between 30 to 60 minutes, three times a week.

There is some sort of universal truth at work here regarding cause and effect. Someone might object that they are too tired, or don’t have the energy to make a commitment like this and start exercising regularly. I have found myself in this same mindset before, and the only way to overcome it is through action. Start moving your body and let the details get worked out later. I may not feel like jogging, but I force myself to go out the door and hit the pavement and before I know it I’m back home, breathing hard and feeling invigorated. In other words, you’re not going to feel great some day and decide to go jogging or walking–it’s the other way around. You have to get out there and do it, despite how you may feel, and then you will be able to look back and see how your routine has energized your life.

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