Move it or Lose it. The Importance of Exercise in Early Recovery
Updated: Feb 21
Does the word “exercise” fill you with dread? When you hear the term “working out” do you suddenly panic and start looking for the nearest escape route to freedom? If you’re like most recovering addicts, the idea of exercising is as appealing as brain surgery: “No, thanks; I’ll just enjoy with the aneurysm, thank you very much.”
As addicts, we prefer the easy way whenever possible. We seek the path of least resistance, even if the path we’re on is self-destructive. In many ways, it’s why we drink and use. We prefer the fastest, easiest route to feeling good or not feeling anything at all. We want immediate gratification and the idea of working hard for what we truly want or need goes against our nature.
But exercise doesn’t have to be feared or avoided. Rather, it should be welcomed and embraced. Exercise doesn’t have to be difficult, either. In fact, some of the most effective forms of exercise are easy and very enjoyable.
I know from my own experience that working out and exercise were the farthest thing from my mind when I was still drinking and using. My idea of exercise was lifting a twelve ounce can of beer, chopping up a line of coke, then quickly lighting a cigarette while talking my head off to anyone who was unfortunate enough to be stuck in the same room with me. This was my version of going to the gym. By the time I finally got sober, I was a flabby, wheezing mess. I looked and felt like Jabba the Hutt with a hangover.
When I was new to recovery I needed to find the easiest form of exercise possible, otherwise I knew I wouldn’t stick with it. So I began to walk. At first I just walked around the block once a day. Then I started walking to AA meetings (luckily, there were several in my Los Angeles neighborhood). I would walk to the store, to meet friends, to get coffee. I walked as often as I could. It felt great, and most importantly it cleared my head and gave me small shots of peace and contentment. I truly started enjoying walking and looked forward to it every day.
The point I want to emphasize is that I had to start moving!
If you’ve been living an addiction lifestyle, most likely you’ve been abusing and neglecting your body in many subtle and not so subtle ways. If you’ve been living on a steady diet of booze, drugs, cigarettes and poor food choices, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, than you need to get up off the couch and shake, rattle and roll your body to get it back into shape. You don’t have to run a marathon or become a champion weight lifter. You just have to start moving your body in a few simple, enjoyable ways (I will provide numerous ideas in the following pages).
Exercise doesn’t have to fill you with dread nor make you run for the door. The only thing you need to do is find an activity that you enjoy and that elevates your heart rate and pushes your muscles a little at a time. Start simple and experiment with various forms of exercise and before you know it you’ll start feeling better, sleeping well, losing weight and loving your life again.
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