The Smart Way To Start Exercising — And What To Watch Out For

As with all things recovery, it's important not to rush it. But once you're on your way, you'll find the long-term benefits of fitness are exceptional

October 27, 2023
Woman doing push-ups to exercise in sobriety

On day one of sobriety, lots of people survey the scene and feel like this: low on friends. Shaky about work. On the outs with family. Spiritually empty. Emotionally spent. Physically unhealthy — and maybe even downright sick.

You’ll find out that your people and your communities, old and new, will show up for you. You’ll get your head right with a little time, too. The physical toll of addiction can be reversed. In fact, you can start getting in the best shape of your life.

But the knots of addiction take time to fully untangle. You can’t rush healing. That also applies to incorporating fitness and exercise into your recovery, should you choose to. As with all things recovery, it’s important to take your time. And when you get it right, you’ll discover the benefits are tremendous.

Why You’ll Want To Start Fast …

Like other aspects of recovery — mental, emotional, and behavioral — physical recovery should begin slowly. Recovery is a journey, not a destination, after all. That goes for healing the physical self too.

There is a tendency in early recovery to want to speed up the process in everything you do. That’s understandable. It can feel like there is an urgent need to make up for lost time. This can be especially true for how you handle physical fitness in recovery.

Why? When you’re recovering, you can certainly feel the improvements to your mental and emotional well-being, but you may still have off days or go through periods of uncertainty about a very new, very big life experience. And you can’t see those improvements (or post them to Instagram!).

Usually, your physical health begins to improve fairly quickly. You know how you looked and felt in active addiction. When you start getting healthy and fit in sobriety, you can see your progress; the contrast is noticeable. Progress is fantastic, and you should be damn proud. You look great! Wow! Just be mindful not to go too hard too fast.

… But Should Take It Slow

Well-rounded recovery is key. In the early days, pretty much everything you do is part of your recovery, including physical activity. So think about the long-term goals of your physical wellness routine and the long-term benefits of exercise over short-term gains. Getting back in shape is terrific, but it’s only one part of the whole recovery process. Don’t let your workouts overtake the internal work that must happen in recovery.

It’s probably worth noting here an issue some people run into in early recovery. Occasionally, folks replace old toxic behaviors with new ones. When you’re newly sober, you’ll have a lot of time on your hands, and maybe not so many substance-free hobbies. Exercise is a great way to fill some of that time. And it’s nice to get out of your head for a little while. That’s allowed! Even healthy.

But — hurried, uninformed exercise can eventually lead to other types of problems, just like throwing all your energies into work or relationships can. Overwork can lead to stress and burnout. Blasting off into a relationship can lead to all kinds of emotional instability.

Overexercise can be detrimental too, and, in the extreme, can become an addictive behavior itself. Taking it slow and easy is the name of the game when it comes to getting the full benefits of exercise in recovery.

Avoiding Overexercise

The best way to avoid overexercising is to keep the whole recovery picture in perspective. An effective way of doing this is by looking over your day-to-day recovery activities. Are you prioritizing one part of your recovery over others?

You may notice that exercise is crowding out other parts of your recovery plan. You may even be exercising despite injury, or exercising through trauma. If so, the best thing to do is talk about it with any addiction specialists or counselors you’re working with, as well as your recovery peers. They can help you get back on track.

Exercise Smart, Get Fit — And Reap Some Other Rewards, Too

Now you’ve got your fitness regimen right-sized. On to the good stuff! In your long-term game plan for recovery, the benefits of responsible exercise can be huge. By taking care of your physical fitness and getting into the the groove of an active lifestyle, you can:

  • Feel stronger and healthier, of course
  • Get your energy up
  • Better manage stress and better clear your mind for meditation, self-reflection and goal-setting
  • Keep connected with a fitness-focused recovery community
  • Take advantage of the sleep benefits that help you function throughout the day
  • Feel better about yourself and your progress when you see how much healthier you’re living and looking

Have Fun With It, and Enjoy Your New Life

Many, many folks in addiction recovery incorporate exercise, nutrition and wellness into their daily schedules. Taking care of these aspects of life helps them heal the body and mind.

As you progress through your workouts, you’ll make new friends, try new activities and gain mental clarity. You’ll be less likely to sweat the small stuff.

Just remember that recovery is a comprehensive process. Exercise can be a big part of that, but not the only part. Do it right and you’ll build yourself up, outside and in.

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