Outside Issues: The Importance of Exercise in Recovery


If you’re new to recovery, or even if you’ve been around a while, you probably feel like you already have enough to do every day, every week, and every month. Can we possibly add another thing to the list? If it wasn’t beneficial, we might not bother. But neglecting our physical health in our recovery can be harmful in a myriad of ways.

It’s true; we already have plenty to do: work, school, family, relationships, hobbies, meetings, 12-Step work, service work, meals, errands, chores. The list goes on. But let’s be realistic — these things are part of most people’s everyday life. And the efforts we make towards growing and improving our recovery pay infinite dividends, so we’re well-rewarded. But what if there’s an area of our lives that we neglect because of our busy schedules? And what if paying attention to this overlooked area actually improved our lives?

That area is our physical health and fitness. Most people are just “too busy” to do more than the bare minimum. We know that ice cream and pizza aren’t good for us, and we know we need to stop ignoring our fitness tracker. That’s as far as most of us go. But if we made a few minor adjustments at a time, we might find ourselves looking, feeling, performing, and behaving at our best more often.

It’s All Connected

We know that our alcoholism and addiction is a disease of a three-fold nature, affecting our mental, physical, and spiritual health. We’re already aware that our solution — the 12-Step program of recovery — is a holistic solution. It addresses all three areas of the disease and solves them simultaneously. Let’s look at the word holistic: the dictionary defines it as “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” Our disease affects our whole person and our whole life. Luckily, so does our solution.

It’s ancient wisdom and no big surprise to hear the old adage, “a healthy body makes for a healthy mind makes for a healthy spirit.” We’ve got the 12-Steps to look after our spiritual fitness. We’ve got therapy, service, and our recovery community to improve our mental fitness. We’re abstaining from substances, and that really helps our physical condition. But can we stop there?

Sure, we can. But should we? Physical sobriety is an absolute necessity, and it does make us healthier, but it’s not always a good stopping point. With every other area of our life, we stop the bad habits and replace them with good ones. So now that we’ve stopped abusing our bodies, it’s a great time to start taking proactive care of them.

What’s the Benefit?

There’s enough upside to physical fitness and health that literally millions of books already exist on the subject. Physical fitness has been a legitimate industry for decades. The list of benefits of being proactive and conscious about our physical health is so long that we can barely scratch the surface here, but we’re going to hit the basics.

We don’t even have to be physically fit to experience these benefits — we just have to be working towards our health to receive them. Being healthier is scientifically proven to improve our mood. Simply the act of exercising has been shown to improve our mental health, not just over time but in the present moment. Ironically, exercise can give us the energy we need to tackle the long to-do list that was our excuse for not exercising! Feeling good physically helps us feel better mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Physical health also helps us become the best version of ourselves to give our best in all other areas of our lives.

I’m Ready. What Should I Do Now?

We don’t all have to become CrossFit athletes by tomorrow. We just have to start making small changes. There’s an easy one built right into our 12-Steps: meditation. Meditation may not sound like exercise, but in many ways, it is. Meditation has the same immediate and long-term mental and physical benefits as exercise does. So if we haven’t been keeping up with our 11th-Step meditation, there’s no better time to start than now. Meditation is also closely related to yoga — by simply stretching and breathing, we can prime our bodies for significant physical improvement.

After we start with meditation, we still don’t need any extreme measures. We can do it all with small changes. Park our car further away from our destination and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a walk after dinner a few nights a week. Recruit some recovery buddies to go hiking or join a gym together.

If we can afford a personal trainer or nutritionist, that is wonderful. But we can also start right now, right where we are, and begin to make small, conscious choices that will pay big dividends. Move your body more, eat a little better, and keep improving step by step. Slow and steady doesn’t just win this race — it helps us live longer and healthier lives.

There are countless ways to pursue information about exercise and a healthy diet, from your local gym to books to a fit friend or personal trainer. No matter where or how we begin, it’s important to give some time and attention to our physical health and fitness. The ways that being physically healthy can benefit us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually are well-documented and easy to experience for ourselves. Why should those of us in recovery worry about our physical fitness and health? Because it can improve how we feel and help us give our best in every area of our lives. At Jaywalker Lodge, we incorporate physical health and fitness directly into our recovery program. Hiking, exercising, skiing, nature expeditions, nutrition — these are all part of our regular lives here. We’d love to help you start your recovery journey in the most holistic way possible. Call us now at (866) 529-9255.

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