Mother Nature's Medicine: Green Exercise is Good For Recovery

Any good treatment program for substance abuse focuses on rehabilitating both mind and body, with emphasis placed on behavioral therapies, good nutrition and physical activity. But did you know you could make your exercise regime more effective by working out in the great outdoors?

The Healing Power Of Nature

Studies show that getting regular physical exercise combats stress, builds muscle and bone, lowers blood pressure and improves immune response in the body. Substance abuse survivors experience fewer withdrawal symptoms and are less likely to relapse if they are involved in getting regular exercise several times a week. But getting that exercise outdoors yields even greater benefits. Green exercise provides fresh air and sunlight, causing your body to produce more vitamin D, which combats depression and seasonal affective disorder. People who are exposed to green spaces actually heal more efficiently from surgery and experience fewer complications. Just living in an area with abundant trees adds to your life expectancy.

Adventures In The Wilderness

Experiential therapies are growing in popularity. Engaging in hands-on, purposeful activity can help recovery by enabling participants to engage with and address subconscious issues that may be hampering their treatment. If a person has trouble recognizing, or talking about, what drives them to abuse alcohol or drugs, they may benefit from these nontraditional approaches. Tackling hard physical tasks like hiking, rafting or rock climbing helps patients to learn new coping mechanisms to deal with stress and fear. Working in groups helps to create social bonds and relearn trust. Patients report feeling more capable and self-assured knowing they can manage in the wilderness, and they take those skills and that knowledge back home with them into their new, sober lifestyle.

A New Way Of Living

Every substance abuse survivor has to relearn essential life skills to make a successful transition to sobriety. Mastering conflict resolution, good communication and self-care will ensure you stay mindful and focused on your recovery. Traditional treatment approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be instituted in green, natural settings to take better advantage of the healing properties of nature. But green exercise can also be something you do on your own to promote your healing process.

Studies show even five minutes a day outside in nature creates marked improvements in mood and levels of optimism. This can be a powerful tool in managing triggers and stresses. If you know you’re headed into a situation that will be stressful, consider a preparatory nature walk to put you in the best frame of mind before the encounter.

Immersive Experience

The Japanese regularly implement something called shinrin-yoku for combatting ill health. Roughly translated “forest bathing,” it refers to immersing oneself in the atmosphere of nature. Studies reveal that just being in the woods, near trees, rocks and running water, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and increases immune response. It sharpens the mind and helps us to maintain concentration and focus. Even the image of the outdoors has potent effects with patients. By having a beautiful, natural view outside their windows measurably decreases post-surgical recovery time, and there are plenty of camping retreats, such as the ones offered by United Camps, Conferences, & Retreats (, that offer you an outdoor experience that will clear your mind and help your body heal.

Addiction has both behavioral and environmental components, so we should involve both behavioral and environmental approaches in our treatment of it. It isn’t enough to detox and get away from the addictive substance. We must learn new ways to live in the world and focus on healing every aspect of our lives. Connecting with nature with green exercise can be a powerful tool for healing mind and body and can impart important life skills and lessons that help us to build a healthful, sober lifestyle.

Guest Blogger, Michelle Peterson