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Strengthening the body, mind, and soul


It’s 11:30 a.m. on a Monday at the City Gospel Mission gym. Three men in its transformational recovery program wrap up their workouts and update their spiral-bound notebooks with today’s accomplishments. They high-five and fist-bump with their “coach” Joe Loving. Joe marks down their attendance for the daily, one-hour session. The men regard Joe as an approachable and friendly coach, with his white hair and a very long whitish beard.

Joe is an independent contractor, raising his own support since February 2024. For the 12 months before then, he volunteered his time, sensing that his service at the gym for the betterment of the men in City Gospel Mission’s recovery program and at its shelter was a true calling, “Like someone tapped me on the shoulder and pointed me to the gym.”

The City Gospel Mission gym ministry operates every weekday morning under his supervision. It is not open to the public.

Ages of the men range from 19-65. A volunteer personal trainer joins Joe on Tuesdays.

Women in City Gospel Mission’s transformational recovery program attend the YMCA once per week for their fitness activities.

Joe sees the men’s recovery journey as falling into 3 “buckets”:

In addition to the gym ministry, City Gospel Mission has a walking/running team called Step Forward. Men and women in recovery and men from the shelter are supported by volunteers as they train together for the Flying Pig Marathon races and other events.

A unique recovery effort in city

Despite the abundance of literature suggesting physical fitness and walking/running training programs are beneficial, an analysis of the Cincinnati area’s residential treatment facilities shows an infrequent emphasis on this aspect of treatment for addiction recovery.

Some programs describe low motivation, low turnout, and the necessary use of incentives, reminders, and gimmicks to improve attendance. Joe says he has never experienced this and was surprised to hear of it.

Expected benefits of regular physical activity are evident, including reduced risk of various chronic diseases, improved concentration, elevated mood, and better sleep quality. Joe notes he sometimes thinks he can see and sense endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin rising over time in gym participants.

Energy, achievement, belonging

Qualitative research has found some thematic responses to exercise:

Pushing forward through recovery (more energy to do the hard work). A sense of achievement and confidence. And a sense of belonging to a group.

Joe wholeheartedly agrees with the current research and is proud of the achievements of so many participants. He gives them a protein shake as a “reward” after a hard workout; he buys these powder tubs out of his own pocket.

The City Gospel Mission gym and Step Forward programs are enhancements to addiction recovery and sheltered guests that may really make a difference in successful outcomes and better futures.

Thanks, Joe, and volunteers who make it happen!

Brenda Young is a nurse practitioner and health writer. She is open to freelance writing assignments and can be reached at You can visit her website at


McGonigle, Kelly. Five Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain

Dai, Chia-Liang, Chen, Ching-Chen, Richardson, George B, and Gordon, Howard R. D. Managing Substance Use Disorderthrough a Walking/Running Training Program Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment Volume 14: 1–8© The Author(s) 2020 DOI:/101177/1782282093668166

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