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Exercise and Sobriety: How Physical Activity Can Help

Exercise and Sobriety: How Physical Activity Can Help

A regular exercise routine can help you stay sober and build good habits.

Staying sober means changing your habits. Our Confidant team will help you discover different habits that promote a healthy lifestyle, including one that we've all heard time and again: regular exercise. In fact, exercising directly combats the urge to drink by altering your brain chemistry. Exercise also improves self-esteem and keeps you busy. 

1. Exercise Provides the Perfect Mental and Physical Outlet

Drinking is often a coping mechanism used to combat feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. But exercise has a positive effect on each of these mental states and offers an outlet for physical energy. Exercise can help you stay sober by allowing you to overcome negative mental states in a much healthier way.Let urges drink signal that it's time to lace up your running shoes, roll out the yoga mat, or reach for the dumbbells. You'll refocus negative mental energy -- and any of its physical manifestations, like tense muscles -- into something wholly positive. By the end of your session, you'll experience a different state of mind, plus a sense of pride and purpose. 

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2. Exercise Gives Your Brain a Serotonin Boost

Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation. If you feel good, your brain has plenty of serotonin and uses it efficiently. When serotonin levels dip, so does your mood. Low serotonin levels are strongly associated with mood disorders like depression, and depression is also linked to alcohol consumption. 

Exercise naturally raises levels of serotonin in the brain. You don't have to perform gold-medal feats to gain this benefit from exercise. Even something as simple as going outside for a walk can give you a serotonin boost. 

The tricky part of reaping this exercise benefit is that depression can make it difficult to get up and move in the first place. Do whatever you can to force yourself to be active, even if it's to walk through the grocery store to get some food. You can also ask a friend to walk with you and hold you accountable. As tough as it is to get started, you'll likely feel a little better after moving around.

3. Exercise Offers a Self-Esteem Boost

Substance use often causes feelings of shame and guilt. Exercise produces the opposite feelings: pride and accomplishment. When you exercise, you prove that you can treat yourself well and take positive steps toward health and wellbeing. You'll likely notice changes in your physical appearance, which can increase confidence as well. When you see yourself in a positive light and feel like a strong, capable person, it's easier to stick to your recovery plan. 

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4. Exercise Keeps You Busy

Exercise gives you something to do to fill the otherwise idle time that could cause your mind to wander toward negative thoughts that could lead to drinking.

In addition, intense exercise is a mental activity just as much as it is a physical one. When you're pushing your physical strength and endurance boundaries, part of you will want to quit. 

The other part of you -- the part that won't let you quit -- must focus intently to continue the exercise. It's hard to think about drinking when you're busy focusing on maintaining your form, breathing in rhythm, and pushing through a tough session.

Want to learn more about how exercise can help you stay sober? Let's talk about it! Your Confidant team can also help you brainstorm different exercises to explore if popular choices -- like running or weight lifting -- don't appeal to you. Sign in to the app to get started.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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