How Outdoor Activities Support Sobriety | All Points North

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How Outdoor Activities Support Sobriety

Getting outdoors can be a restorative and enjoyable experience that helps you stay sober. Although people typically emphasize therapy and treatments that address substance use directly, enjoying your life in sobriety is just as important! Spending time outdoors is just one of the ways in which you can help yourself stay sober.

The Addiction Recovery Dilemma

Before diving into outdoor activities to support sobriety, it’s important first to recognize a common dilemma that people face when they finally quit drugs or alcohol for the first time. Substance use disorders are an all-encompassing challenge that can dictate all areas of your life.

Every aspect of the day can come to resolve around substance use: how to find drugs or alcohol, people to use drugs or alcohol with, and activities that align with your substance use habits.

You may be someone for whom addiction doesn’t overtake life entirely, but it still carves out a section. You might still go to work, spend time with your friends from before you ever developed a substance use problem, or keep up with certain activities and hobbies that you’ve had for a lifetime, but you still spend a substantial portion of your time dedicated to substance use.

Regardless of the degree to which it occurs, by definition, a substance use disorder encroaches upon your life. Much of the work of recovery is retaking the space in your life that your addiction has taken from you and replacing it with healthier and more sustainable habits that support your sobriety.

This brings us to the addiction recovery dilemma: people who successfully quit drugs and alcohol are, in fact, subtracting a powerful element from their lives. People with substance use disorders use drugs and alcohol for a purpose, have friends that they use substances with, and spend a great deal of time using, seeking out, or recovering from substance use.

Breaking free from addiction can leave an outsized gap in your day-to-day life. If you don’t find ways to fill this gap, you can find yourself bored or listless. You may feel like the promises of recovery are left unfulfilled. When this happens, cravings can creep back in, putting you at high risk for relapse.

At first, this gap is often filled by addiction treatment. If you enroll in a residential addiction treatment center, for example, you’ll spend several hours a day in group therapy, individual sessions, and getting targeted treatments for your substance use disorder.

Yet, treatment doesn’t last forever, and stepping down from care and into a better life in recovery should always be your goal.

Finding ways to enjoy and appreciate your new life in recovery is essential for long-term success. Outdoor activities to support recovery are one of the best ways to accomplish this goal, as they can be rewarding and engaging and can often bring a new sense of purpose and enjoyment to your life in recovery.

How Outdoor Activities Fill the Gap

Outdoor activities can fill the void left by quitting a substance use disorder by providing you with the essential, basic needs of life that are often left unfulfilled after achieving abstinence.

In many ways, getting engaged in outdoor activities can serve as a replacement reward for substances themselves, yet be more sustainable and empowering than any addictive substance can ever be.

Improved Mood

Getting outdoors has repeatedly been associated with a number of mood-boosting benefits. This isn’t just a matter of experience, either; researchers have connected nature exposure directly to improvements in mood, cognition, and several other factors of overall well-being. There are several reasons for these important findings.

First, getting outdoors helps expose people to natural light sources, something growing increasingly less common as people spend more time indoors with computers and online entertainment options. Exposure to natural light can help reset the body’s natural circadian rhythms, helping regulate important hormones and improve sleep quality.

Many of the activities people engage in outdoors are mood-boosting in their own right. Whether they’re hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, skiing, or mountain bike riding — these activities can be highly enjoyable and provide people with a lasting sense of mood improvement.

And finally, many researchers believe that nature itself provides some form of mood elevation. Scientists have shown substantial improvement in key symptoms of mood and behavior from simply spending time outdoors, in green spaces, or even viewing nature images in highly controlled laboratory environments.

Physical Activity

Outdoor activities often involve exercise, which can provide astounding physical and mental health benefits for people in recovery. The scientific literature on the benefits of exercise during substance use recovery is extensive, showing that it not only helps people resist cravings and maintain their sobriety but enjoy their recovery more.

Importantly, outdoor physical activity doesn’t need to be intensive to provide these benefits. Many people new to recovery think that increasing physical activity means they need to take up running, cycling, or more extreme and intensive forms of exercise in order to see benefits.

Research has repeatedly shown that even activities such as walking around your neighborhood can provide similar levels of mood improvement and symptom relief. In other words, the benefits from physical activity don’t come from intensive exercise alone but from reducing sedentary patterns, which can ultimately become harmful.

The great outdoors has an abundance of options for people to get active. Studies have also shown that people who start an exercise routine are more likely to stick with it if they get outside as opposed to sweating in the gym.

This is likely because nature itself is rewarding. Walking through a forest is more pleasant and enjoyable for most people than walking on a treadmill. Riding your bike on a trail can be more exciting than riding a stationary bike. Whatever your activity of choice may be, consider incorporating the outdoors into your exercise plans.

Restoration of Attention Fatigue

One of the more interesting benefits of outdoor activities in supporting recovery is the restoration of attention fatigue. Attention fatigue refers to when people become worn down by paying close attention to a certain activity and avoiding distractions.

It can often happen at work when people are focused on a project and avoiding distraction, or even in treatment — when they focus on their recovery and push other concerns to the side.

Attention fatigue can build up over time, leading to people feeling impatient, irritable, or highly distractible. Outdoor activities have been linked to substantial decreases in attention fatigue, as people can fully immerse themselves in an activity while still letting their minds wander and drift.

This is critically important in substance use recovery. When people have excessive attention fatigue, they can start to experience worsening cravings or mental health symptoms that could drive them back toward substance use.

Alleviating this fatigue through exposure to nature can help you get back to feeling your best, replenish your ability to focus on abstinence, and support you in your path toward recovery.

Building New Hobbies and Habits

Starting new outdoor activities to support sobriety can help you build healthier hobbies and habits. Many people seek out these types of activities because they are intrinsically rewarding, which means that people enjoy them for their own sake, not because of external rewards or recognition.

For example, a hiker can feel gratified when they reach the top of a new mountain or trail. A kayaker can find great joy in exploring a new river. A mountain biker can enjoy the thrill of racing down new trails.

These activities build upon themselves and constantly provide a new source of reward, pleasure, and enjoyment. They quickly become hobbies, providing a constructive use for the newfound time that so many people have when they enter into sobriety.

These types of healthy habits can quickly take the place that substance use used to, providing a more adaptive and sustainable path to a life well lived.

Social Connection

Fortunately, the great outdoors is an almost universal source of enjoyment for countless people. Gaining social connection during outdoor activities can enhance the mental health benefits you experience and help you build lasting and meaningful relationships that don’t revolve around substance use.

If you don’t already have friends or family members who are excited to get outdoors with you, there are an abundance of ways you can find new people to enjoy outdoor activities with. There are almost always local social groups for activities such as hiking, cycling, running, camping, or any number of other outdoor activities that welcome new members.

Different Outdoor Activities to Support Sobriety

If you’re beginning to recognize the benefits of outdoor activities, you may start to wonder how you can get involved in one. There are several different options that people enjoy, and finding the one that works for you is key to building a healthy new activity that lasts for many years.

Some of the more popular outdoor activities you can enjoy include:

  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Road cycling
  • Trail running
  • Road running
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Rock climbing
  • Geocaching
  • Walking
  • Photography

When you’re new to sobriety, the options you have available can feel overwhelming. It’s typically recommended that you try multiple different activities when you’re new to recovery to see which types of activities you enjoy and where you want to spend your effort.

The important part is that you get out and do it. People new to recovery often struggle with motivation for new activities. In fact, it’s a direct symptom of substance use disorders to lose the motivation for these types of activities.

However, studies have shown that when people break through the initial barrier that low motivation presents, they truly enjoy the activities that the outdoors has to offer.

Outdoor Activities as Part of Life in Recovery

Outdoor activities alone aren’t enough to produce lasting recovery. What they can do is provide a more well-rounded and enjoyable experience for people looking to maintain their sobriety.

If you’re new to recovery or considering sobriety for the first time, it’s typically recommended that you start with an evidence-based addiction treatment program. Talk therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and other substance use treatment interventions all play a critical role in helping people break free from substance use disorders and are the foundation on which recovery is built.

But remember to take the time to enjoy your recovery, too. Don’t spend all your time in a therapy session. Make space for the things you enjoy in life, and you’ll have a much greater chance of maintaining your recovery for years to come.

If you’re ready to get started with an addiction treatment program that integrates outdoor activities into the experience, reach out to APN Lodge by calling 855.510.4585 or filling out our confidential online form.


  • Bowler, D.E., Buyung-Ali, L.M., Knight, T.M. et al. A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health 10, 456 (2010).
  • Wang, Dongshi, et al. “Impact of Physical Exercise on Substance Use Disorders: A Meta-Analysis.” PLOS ONE, vol. 9, no. 10, 2014, p. e110728, Accessed 25 May 2024.