Best Outdoor Activities for Recovery

Photo of smiling Black man hiking outdoors
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We’ve published hundreds of articles on recovery on our blog over the years, including several on the benefits of exercise during recovery, the benefits of staying active during recovery, and more: this article adds to the collective knowledge we share in those articles, and offers specific ideas for outdoor activities that support and promote recovery.

One thing you learn early in recovery is that it’s best to think of recovery as a verb. Meaning recovery is something you do, as opposed to something that happens to you. Recovery means taking proactive steps every day to stay on your program and stay healthy. Let’s look at a definition of recovery that emphasizes this idea:

“Recovery is an individualized, intentional, dynamic, and relational process involving sustained efforts to improve wellness.”

We like this definition because it includes what we think are core components of recovery: it’s a process that involves accountability, personal intention, engaging with others, and improving overall health. Just like health is more than the absence of diseases, recovery is more than the absence of intoxicants: it’s a way of living that prioritizes health, balance, and wellness.

An important part of the recovery process is learning – or relearning – how to have fun and spend quality time with others without the use of intoxicants: that’s where outdoor activities fit in the recovery process. They’re fun, they’re healthy, you can do them alone or with others, and, most importantly, they support the recovery lifestyle.

Our Top 5 Outdoor Activities for Recovery

1. Hiking/Walking

The best thing about hiking and walking is the cost. Taking a walk around your neighborhood is always free: just walk out your front door, and you’re engaging in a recovery friendly activity that’s also good for your physical and mental health. The CDC says we should all get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week to experience the health benefits of exercise. If you walk just 20 minutes every day, you’re basically there. Here’s how that level of exercise can help your overall health:

  • Improves heart health
  • Reduces cancer risk
  • Improves brain health
  • Improves muscle and bone strength
  • Increases energy levels
  • Promotes weight loss
  • Increase immune function
  • Improves sleep

Hiking is simply next-level walking. It may take a little planning and a little money in the gas tank to get to a place where you can take a real hike, but it’s well worth it. You get all the health benefits listed above, plus a memorable experience in nature. And when you hike with friends, you have plenty of time to talk, connect, or simply enjoy the comfortable silence of true companionship.

2. Camping

Don’t let that word scare you! Yes, on one level, camping is next-level hiking: you get out in the woods, take a long walk, then stop and sleep there. It’s an amazing experience. Going to sleep under the stars is something everyone should do at least once in their lives. And almost nothing beats waking up to a sunrise next to a secluded lake deep in a national park of forest. However, hardcore, carry-your-tent-and-food-on-your-back camping is not for everyone.

Thankfully, there are options.

Consider car camping, where you drive to a campsite in a nice, natural location, get set up, and have fun in the great outdoors. There’s also the phenomenon known as glamping, which is camping for people who aren’t interested in the common discomforts associated with camping, but would prefer to keep it glamorous. Backpacking style camping, car camping, or glamping: all three are recovery friendly, all three are well worth the time and effort, and all three are recovery friendly.

3. Picnics

We love picnics as a recovery friendly outdoor activity because they involve three things that promote a healthy, recovery lifestyle: quality time with friends, healthy food, and the outdoors. Okay – the healthy food part is on you, but really, what can beat hanging out on a sunny day, with people you like, eating good food? Not a lot, in our book. Another great thing about picnics is the virtual infinite variation. You can buy your meals pre-made from Whole Foods and have a luxury picnic in a fancy city park. Or you can make a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spread a blanket out on the grass – anywhere, like your front/back yard, or a small park – and invite your friends to join you for a simple snack. In between those two choices is a range of options.

Think about it for a minute, and we’re sure you can come up with fun, easy, recovery friendly picnic ideas. We suggest inviting recovery peers from community support meetings: it’s great to spend time and learn about them outside of the context of a recovery meeting.

4. Bike Rides

Riding bikes is another activity that we put in the same category of walking, because if you have a bike, all you have to do is go out your front door, and voila! You’re engaging in a recovery friendly outdoor activity. And like the differences between walking, hiking and camping, and all the variations of picnics you can devise, riding a bike can also take many forms. You can tool around at low speed on a beach cruiser, and it feels like an easy after dinner walk. You can ride on a bike path, away from worries about traffic, and go for as long as you desire.

Or you can get into cycling, like the people dressed in spandex riding skinny-tire road bikes, streaming around in groups, all packed together like they’re in the Tour de France. That kind of riding is its own special thing, as is mountain biking. In any case, there are as many ways to enjoy riding a bike as there are people who ride bikes. Find out how you like to ride, and go for it: bike rides are an excellent, recovery friendly activity you can enjoy well into old age.

5. Gardening

This is a recovery friendly activity on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. On a basic, physical level, gardening is a good way to get outside, get your body moving, and get exercise without calling it or thinking about it as exercise. For some people in recovery, the idea of exercise is anathema, but the idea of getting outside and working with plants in the dirt sounds perfect. That’s level one: it’s outdoors, it’s active, it’s relaxing, and it feels great – all things that promote recovery.

On a deeper level, however, the lessons and benefits of gardening are an outstanding metaphor for the entire recovery process. Gardening takes time – like recovery. Gardening takes commitment – like recovery. And gardening takes hard work – like recovery. Best of all, the goal of gardening – like recovery – is growth. Growth in recovery only happens with your consistent effort – like recovery. And the result of both gardening and recovery? Something beautiful: a new life.

Your Recovery, Your Time

The takeaway here is that you get to decide how you recover. With regards to outdoor activities, you’re the boss. Outdoor activity can be as simple as taking a walk around the block after dinner or as complex as organizing a backpacking trip in the backcountry. For most of us, it’s somewhere in between: we go for a bike ride, go for a hike on Saturday, or simply spend outside doing yardwork or hanging around at a park with friends. Wherever you are in your recovery journey, remember how good it feels to spend time outdoors, and remember the benefits of outdoor activities, because sometimes the simplest things – like a picnic with friends on a nice sunny day

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.