How can physical activity help substance abusers stay sober?

Apr 8, 2021

Exercise and other forms. Can physical activity help you stay sober? We asked few fitness aficionados about how exercise can improve your health. Read on. of physical activity get your heart pumping and your body moving, things everybody agrees are great for your physical and mental health. But can it help you stay sober? Yes! We talked with a few fitness aficionados about how exercise can improve your health AND keep you from falling back into damaging substance abuse habits.
Joanne Ketch

Joanne Ketch

Joanne Ketch is a multi-credentialed professional serving professionals, executives, medical workers, business owners, and first responders in Katy, TX, who have, or think they may have, a substance use disorder (and those who love them). Joanne has managed Intensive Outpatient Programs, Bereavement Support, and worked in a Psychiatric Emergency Room in the TX medical center. Find her at

Physical exercise is one of the most powerful recovery tools.

It is widely known to be one of the most neuro-beneficial activities or habits a person can engage in. In terms of substance abuse recovery, the benefits are multidimensional:

  • Exercise assists with many co-occurring issues such as depression and anxiety, which are known to increase the risk of relapse.
  • Exercise is a known stress mitigator, and stress is a known trigger for relapse.
  • Exercise is portable and accessible.
  • Exercise can be tailored to personality and temperament, such as introvert and extrovert.
  • Current research does not suggest that any type or intensity is “better” in terms of others in creating the benefits.
  • Exercise can be private or done with others.
  • Exercise can be confidential; no one has to know the purpose or that it is specific to substance use recovery.
  • It can be of particular use in early recovery in the following ways – sleep, reduced withdrawal symptoms, better appetite.

Exercise is a phenomenal way to create relationships with others

Exercise helps maintain sobriety for the obvious reasons like reducing stress, coping, mental health benefits, increased self-esteem, staying in the present moment, and added structure.

Beyond all of this, staying sober is a lot easier when you have a supportive community. Those in recovery crave connection. Exercise is a phenomenal way to create relationships with others who live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, I’ve found that many people in the fitness community choose to refrain from drugs and alcohol not because they seek sobriety, but because it’s better for their health.

One of the biggest threats to sobriety is isolation and exercise provides a healthy outlet and an easy way to connect with those who influence you to strive to become healthier and better overall.

Ashlie Pappas

Ashlie Pappas

Ashlie Pappas is the founder of Naturally Ashlie and host of the Stress Free Naturally meditation podcast. Ashlie is a personal trainer and life coach who helps the high-performing and overwhelmed to prioritize themselves, take a step back, and rekindle the relationship with themselves.
Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson, founder of Sawinery.

Physical activity serves as a coping mechanism

Yes. Physical activity serves as a coping mechanism since it aids an individual to improve their thinking and decision making. These activities are ways an individual can fight against relapse since they help when it comes to managing stress, depression, and anxiety, which are common factors of substance abuse. Lastly, these activities will make [one] feel productive and will help a person gain [their] confidence back. With proper control and discipline, one will eventually feel better about themselves again.

Many people get into more “extreme” sports coming out of addiction

As an event director and rock climbing gym chain operator, I can comfortably say that physical activity is something that a LOT of previous substance abusers have used to stay sober. Most ultra-runners I know have used the sport as a healthy “fix” to their impulses. Many people get into more “extreme” sports coming out of addiction because it gives you a community, a goal, and it gives that place in your brain that needs filling with something else. Building a physical habit like running allows addicts to go do that instead of the other thing.

Kristin Horowitz

Kristin Horowitz

Kristin Horowitz is the author of The All Out Guide to Great Sporting Events and puts on human-powered outdoor events like triathlons, adventure races, obstacle course races when she’s not running her multilocation rock climbing business, the Pad Climbing.

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