Using Exercise As A Tool For Addiction Recovery

Greg:                    All right. What is going on, everyone? It is Matt and Greg here from Project Unbroken. Today, we’re going to be talking about exercise and addiction. Exercise is, for both of us, one of the big reasons we were able to get through addiction, I think. You introduced it to me as I was coming off Methadone and it was a huge help for me. I’m just going to, first, go into why I think it was a big help for me and then Matt can explain why it was a big help for him and why we think it’s important for people to look into as you’re coming out of an addiction, especially. Of course, it’s great for everyone but especially coming out of addiction.

I know coming off Methadone I was extremely out of shape. I’m 5’5″. I was about 180 pounds, down to about 150 now, so I was about 30 pounds heavier. My … How do you say that? My confidence was pretty much at an all-time low. I was the worst I ever looked, again, completely out of shape, not eating well. I had been addicted to drugs the past eight or nine years. I just didn’t feel good about myself. I was doing well in business, at the time. Doing pretty good, not as well as I am now, so that was all right but my health just wasn’t there. I would say I was fairly depressed. I wasn’t happy overall.

When I started exercising, it started changing. I’d go in, I would do these workouts, Mike and Matt got me in this gym, and I would leave and it was almost like a high. It was weird. I don’t know how to explain it, but I would leave there and I would feel like a different high. It was almost like a replacement for me. I would go home and some nights I would go back to not feeling as good, or kind of through it and come back in, and I noticed as I went in more and more that feeling of feeling good would last longer and longer. I think part of it was I was building my confidence. I guess, part of it, stuff was just changing up here. I don’t know. You know more technical stuff than I do about what goes on with that. Maybe you can explain it a little bit, but for me, I think one of the big things it did was it just started building my confidence.

I started seeing my body change, I’m doing something positive, I’m working hard, and I’m starting to see results in my body and I think that started changing stuff in my mind.

Matt:                    Yeah.

Greg:                    Why don’t you tell people how you got into exercise after addiction, what it did for you, and why you think it’s so helpful.

Matt:                    Yeah. I’ve always, kind of, found the chemical changes that exercise can create for your brain, the hormonal response of exercise, and what that actually does to change the way we think. I’ve known a little bit about this. I struggled with a little bit of depression and anxiety when I was younger, which I think is what led to me, kind of, using drugs later down the road anyways, but I always knew the benefits of exercise on the mind. When I was trying to quit heroin, that was going to be my main tool. I was like, “All right. This is what I can use to help get my brain chemistry back to the where I need it.”

And now that I have a better understanding of it, you can see why it’s so helpful. We’re not the first ones to use exercise as a tool to help in recovery or to stay off of drugs, really. We’ve talked before about maybe it’s replacing a little of an addiction. Not that a lot of people don’t believe that’s what you do, but I just think it’s human nature to, kind of … You need those chemicals in your mind. You need serotonin to be happy. When you’re working out, your body creates these different chemicals and releases these different hormones in your brain that were, kind of … We evolved to produce these, basically, to survive.

The four ones that I try to really keep an eye on are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. I’m not going to get into the details of what each and everyone of those do, but exercise helps with all of them. We are wired to want to accomplish something, to do hard work. When we do hard work, our body releases these endorphins because back in the day when you were trying to hunt for food, or whatever, if you didn’t have those go off, you probably would just sit down and take a rest and starve to death. That’s kind of the way we’re set. I know that, while in today’s society we don’t need to do those kind of things, we can find that through exercise.

When Greg was going through what I went through just a short time before him, I thought it might be beneficial for him to add a component of exercise into his life to try to help with that brain chemistry. I think we both found it really beneficial in getting clean.

Greg:                    It’s crazy.

Matt:                    Yeah. I’ll let you go on it.

Greg:                    Well, it’s crazy ’cause now, sometimes, I’ll go a down or two without working out and I’ll start getting kind of bottled up.

Matt:                    Yeah.

Greg:                    Like, “I need to workout,” you know what I mean?

Matt:                    Absolutely.

Greg:                    My fiance knows I need to get to the gym. That is my release now, and as Matt said, some people consider that replacing an addiction. When my fiance was in rehab, they had a family program and we’d discuss different topics and I said, “What’s your view on replacing the addiction with positive addictions?” They were like, “We don’t teach that here,” which is fine. I guess everyone doesn’t recommend it but, for me, I found it extremely beneficial. Yeah, I need to go to the gym to stay level. I don’t need to, but it makes me feel a lot better. But I enjoy it, it’s something I enjoy. It’s positive for me so I, personally, don’t see any problem with it and it’s created an extreme amount of benefits for me.

I have energy all throughout the day, especially getting my diet right, which we talk about in other videos. I just feel great. I get that workout, it’s almost like a high and then it’s like I feel accomplished. I’m in shape so I have that confidence there. It does so much for you.

Matt:                    The benefits are far reaching. Again, neither one of us got into it for a lot of the reasons that I think … A lot of people out there think it’s a stereotypical meathead kind of thing. I could honestly care less, physically, what I look like. It’s literally I do it for peace of mind. That’s why I exercise and it’s just something that, again, the thing I have to do just to be even keel. I don’t know if I have an “addictive personality” or whatever it is, but if I’m going to be doing something to make myself feel better, I know that exercise is going to be a sustainable thing. Heroin is not.

I want to feel this way and it’s either I can put the work in and exercise and eat right, or I can abuse a different substance, which I tried.

Greg:                    What’s funny is when you say that I’m thinking I do jiu-jitsu, as well, and there’s a lot of guys at the jiu-jitsu gym that aren’t addicts but if they don’t do jiu-jitsu, if they’re out for a while, they’re going crazy.

Matt:                    Yeah.

Greg:                    It’s weird. It’s not just addicts, it’s almost like anyone who gets into exercise … When you get used to how good it can make you feel and then you’re out for a week and you’re like, “Man, I just don’t feel right.” It’s there for non-addicts too, I guess.

Matt:                    Well, you say, “non-addicts”, but everybody’s addicted to something.

Greg:                    Non-drug addicts, I should say.

Matt:                    I wouldn’t even say a lot of times that that’s … It can be just as bad.

Greg:                    And you’re talking about relationships. The accepted drugs like alcohol, caffeine, that type of stuff.

Matt:                    Absolutely.

Greg:                    Sugar.

Matt:                    People might take it out with unhealthy sexual relationships or shopping. You see people drive themselves into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

Greg:                    I’ve seen people ruin their life with porn addiction. Literally, ruin their life.

Matt:                    It’s not illegal, but it will. It’ll absolute ruin your life and if you can’t find an outlet to make yourself … I don’t know if it’s brain chemistry or just to get you to feel a level of confidence or accomplishment, it might manifest in an unhealthy way. I just think exercise is something that if you can get into the routine, even if you just start … We usually suggest that you try to find somebody that knows what they’re doing, find a trainer that can help keep you accountable, and yeah, it cannot be fun at first. You got to get through that, but within 30 days, it’s a habit. If you can stick that, you start to really feel the benefits and, again, they can be far reaching and it’s a sustainable thing to do to keep you healthy.

Greg:                    I can remember at three week mark for me, I was like hooked. I was like, “I need to start going every day.”

Matt:                    Yeah, absolutely. You see the benefits way sooner than you think. I own a gym and I know now that if I can get people in here, if I can get them in three days a week for two or three weeks, that’s going to be enough where they can feel the benefits physically. You start to see a little bit of changes, even if it’s placebo, you just feel better about yourself.

Greg:                    Do I have a new vein in there?

Matt:                    Yeah, look at that. And you will immediately, I’m talking after two weeks, you’ll start to feel the mental or the brain chemistry start to change. Again, the confidence, all that stuff, is all going to be beneficial when you’re trying to stay away from substance abuse. Confidence is huge.

Greg:                    Huge.

Matt:                    It’s huge. When you feel bad about yourself, it’s real easy to treat yourself poorly, which is … When you’re using heroin, you couldn’t treat yourself any worse.

Greg:                    That’s very true.

Matt:                    You really couldn’t.

Greg:                    Very true. If you guys are interested about this topic, if you want us to talk more about exercise, health-related stuff, this is something that can make you feel better whether you’re an addict, non-addict, so if you want us to talk more about that topic, let us know and we’ll get into it.

Matt:                    Yeah, guys. Well, thanks for watching and don’t forget to check us out at We look forward to talking to you soon.

Greg:                    Have a good one, everyone.

In Category: Addiction

Greg Morrison

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