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The POWER of fitness for the recovering addict

I'm sure you all know the benefits of exercise on your mental health as well as your physical health.

I'd be full of crap if I told you that running 5 miles gives me the same high as smoking a $20 piece of crack. It doesn't, however, science tells us that exercise does active our reward pathway and release happy chemicals dopamine and serotonin which is what happens, albeit to a lesser extent, when we use drugs or alcohol.

All of us know that a regular exercise routine is beneficial to our body and our mind, and in my experience, this is especially true for the recovering addict.

I won't talk about the scientific aspects of this theory, I will leave that to the experts. I will, however, talk about my experience going from a fat, out of shape, chain smoking lazy person to someone who is physically active and who is really happy about the way he looks and feels today.


I quit smoking - the end of one habit

In 2008 I was in my third and final drug rehab center in Glencairn, Ontario. As part of their program, all of us guys were offered nicotine replacement therapy to stop smoking if we wanted it.

About 3 months into my 6 month stay, I took them up on their offer and accepted a five week supply of nicotine patches. Actually, that's not true at all - I had to get one patch per day from the nurse and I would apply it on the way to the chapel before our morning devotions. I did this for five weeks until the nurse said I was done and that was it! I had quit smoking while in rehab.

I hear people say that they need to tackle one addiction at a time but I was all in.

I wanted to start living a life I was proud of and cigarettes we not part of that life.

By the way, I HAVE had nicotine relapses since then but I'm happy to say that as of this writing, I have been nicotine free for years.

I've always wanted to be in better physical shape. I was overweight and that was so awful for me. I hid my body for years. I literally couldn't bring myself to wear shorts in public for over 15 years. I wanted so bad to have a body I was proud of but I didn't.

It's an awful place to me when my values don't match my current situation - it created a non-stop feeling of failure.


Running in rehab - the start of another habit

Charles Duhigg talks about "Keystone Habits" in his book called the Power Of Habit. He defines them as "changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives"

In this case, quitting smoking gave me more energy and signaled back to me that I was actually committed to changing my life at this point, since I had been a dedicated smoker for over 20 years.

I started doing little jogs around the country roads of the rehab center, nothing too fast or too long. I just got out there on nice summer days and I really enjoyed the alone time. I would wave at people and cars, and I got some waves back and some honks which was great for my need for approval from complete strangers.

One Sunday I went absolutely crazy and signed out of the rehab center for 2 hours so I could do a long run to the store in the next town over and back. The total run was 11km and I was really excited when I finally made it back. My first ever run over 10km. I was a legend among my fellows!

I continued this for the last three months of treatment and I felt great when I got out. I hadn't lost any weight because I kept eating like a savage and If I know anything it's that I can't outwork a bad diet. I left the treatment centre weighing about 190lbs and I'm 5'6" so I was packing a lot of fat still. I wasn't happy about that


The woman at the gym

I joined a gym with a friend and I went there 3-4 times a week. I can remember being on the treadmill one day and I think my timer was at about 45 minutes and the lady on the machine next to me said "I don't know how you can run for that long!" I told her that it just takes time to build up to it, anyone can do it.

I was really flattered that someone was impressed with me. I've never forgotten how nice that felt.

So I used the gym, began to run longer distances and I actually started to eat better.

For the first time ever, I was starting to like the person I was physically and let me tell you - what a boost of confidence that was.


"You are enough" = Total BS

You can keep your disgusting Instagram "You are enough" posts.

Nothing quite like some idiot who I've never met telling me that I don't have to change anything - I'm great just the way I am. Social media BS.

Here's a secret - If you don't feel like you're enough, you aren't. It doesn't matter how many times people try to tell you that you're okay just the way you are. If they won't tell you the truth, then let me:

If you're not happy with the person you are, inside or outside, you have to do something to change it, it's not going to happen on it's own, and it's going to take some work.


Running has changed my life

Running is a huge part of the reason that I am still sober today. It's not the only reason, but if I hadn't found something like this outside of the recovery community, I don't know what my life would be like.

The good news is that so many of us in addiction recovery decide to take up fitness and healthy habits that there are a lot of people that I run with today who are also sober like me.

Running has made me look better, feel younger and has led to other great habits like eating better and going to sleep at a reasonable hour so I can be up early on a Sunday morning to go knock out the 20 mile training run before it gets too hot. It has literally changed the quality and the trajectory of my life.

I can guarantee that if I don't get run down by a UPS truck or some sort of unforeseeable death, it has also extended my life which is great because I actually want to live now.


Other benefits of exercise as the recovering addict

-New Friends - A community of wellness minded people to spend time with.

-Intro to goal setting - tiny fitness goals are easy to set and can be used as a foundation to prove that you can reach goals in all areas of your life

-Healthy competition with your former self. It's great to measure our progress against where we once were and celebrate the change

-Identity change - This is the foundation of any good recovery program. We need to become a different person if we are to stay sober and being our best physical selves is a huge boost to a positive identity shift.

-Confidence - Looking better and feeling better are amazing for confidence levels, since confidence is based on recent past performance


As someone who is also on the road to recovery, I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions about running or anything at all addiction recovery related, feel free to reach out to me at or just call me at 416-788-6549.

And wish me luck at the 2022 Chicago Marathon! It's on October 9, 2022


Emily Coffey
Emily Coffey
Sep 06, 2022

This was really inspiring!

Kelly France
Kelly France
Sep 06, 2022
Replying to

Thank you Emily! I really appreciate you 😊

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