We’ve all heard about the benefits of running and exercise. Intentional movement is good for both physical and mental health. The benefits most of us are familiar with include:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers 
  • Proper management of blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Reduced risk of depression and helps manage anxiety
  • Improved sleep

Running can even help lengthen your life expectancy.

But what about the specific benefits for people in recovery? To find out, we talked to people in sobriety from alcohol and drugs. For Marlene T., running made a huge difference in early sobriety.

“Though I had always considered myself active to an extent, it was not until I got sober that I began to run with intention,” said Marlene T. “My first week of sobriety, I decided I’d do a round of Whole30. And if that wasn’t ambitious enough, I signed up for my first half marathon for the month following. Having that race in mind really helped push me through my first month.”

And for Amy Wilbourne, exercise renewed her sense of vitality after she quit drinking.

“I had all but quit exercising altogether before I got sober,” said Amy Wilbourne. “I was doing yoga once a week but very little if any cardio. After I quit drinking, I started doing reformer Pilates. I had never tried it before, and I liked that it was strength building and gave me some cardio. I also walked every day shortly after I stopped drinking. Both of them helped me to feel alive and strong again.”

For some people in sobriety, running and exercise help bring them a sense of belonging and community. This was especially true for JB.

“I have a community of sober running friends who I train with and race with, and that sense of belonging is something I never would have experienced without AA,” said JB. “It’s definitely brought me a ton of relief in sobriety, so I am always trying to recruit people to join our sober running community.”

For Lucy Kaplan, running helps her feel both socially connected and accomplished.

It gave me a more positive group of people to spend my time with, and it is truly a feeling of accomplishment each time I finish a run,” said Lucy Kaplan.

For others, running is something that enables them to meditate and work through their anxiety or negative emotions, rather than turning to alcohol and drugs. Exercise gives them a sense of accomplishment and a positive outlet to turn to when life gets difficult.

“My head feels like there’s always 5,000 things going on at once,” said TJ Royer. “Running quiets my inner chatter.”

And for Lori Light, exercise is a great way to change her negative thought patterns.

“The biggest way that exercise has impacted my sobriety and recovery is that I am able to notice changes in my thinking much faster with a regular exercise routine,” said Lori Light. “Most addicts and alcoholics have very black and white beliefs about themselves that make them stay in thought patterns that create a negative feedback loop. Exercise is one of the only ways to get off that hamster wheel and learn that we are capable of growth and change. When I am not exercising regularly, I start to hear old voices and old ideas that tell me I’m incapable of doing something or that I don’t deserve something. It’s easier to quiet those voices and be assertive when I am living a more active lifestyle.”

Angie Jones says that exercise helps her better handle stressful situations.

“Riding and other forms of exercise have helped me to deal with stress in sobriety,” said Angie Jones. “Doing a tough ride makes me feel good. I feel accomplished and strong.”

And for JoAnn, exercise is a healthy replacement for alcohol that helps her cope with stress.

“Exercise has been a source of peace for me during this recovery process,” said JoAnn. “I had been using alcohol as an escape from my emotions, particularly anxiety. Exercise gave me something to turn to when I was feeling anxious that took me out of the stressful thoughts and into focusing on movement.”

Even though exercise is usually positive and has definite health benefits, too much of anything can be destructive.

For Yuchen Chen, exercise actually became an obsession much like drugs and alcohol, and she found that it was something she needed to let go of for her own physical, mental, and spiritual health.

“I got super into fitness in sobriety, and this year, I realized that I’ve been using it like another drug or escape and I needed to put my program first,” Chen said. “My exercise and fitness obsession got me through a lot in sobriety, but it also was blocking me from God and truly loving myself as who I am. I stopped exercising in November because of a health issue but also as a big part of my [recovery] this time around. I realized that my fitness obsession was a rock I had picked up in early sobriety that I finally became ready to drop.

Just like anything else, running and exercise can become problematic if they turn into an obsession. However, when done a healthy amount, running and exercise can be an excellent way to connect with others, relieve stress and cope with negative thought patterns and situations, on top of all the physical benefits.

If you’re sober and want to start running or exercising, consider joining a sober running community, listening to music while exercising, or mixing it up by trying a combination of different workouts.