Regular exercise at the beginning of recovery can be instrumental for people in treatment. Many treatment centers incorporate exercise into their programs for this very reason.

When you use drugs and alcohol in excess, your body and mind are both impacted. Addiction changes your body chemistry. Once substances are removed, you may be left feeling anxious, depressed and sensitive to some of life’s major stressors.

The good news is that physical activity can help shift the tide on those negative emotions and bring you some positive results. Whether you are new in addiction recovery or have been away from harmful substances for many years, there are several proven benefits to getting regular exercise.

6 Ways Exercise Can Benefit Recovery

1. Stress Reduction

Stress can be a particular problem in addiction recovery and can lead to relapse if not properly managed. One of the ways that you can reduce and control stress is through exercise. Physical activity releases feel-good endorphins in the brain and improves circulation, both of which help with stress.

2. Better Sleep

Having problems with sleep is not uncommon in recovery. In fact, many people begin using alcohol or drugs believing that these substances would help them get the rest they needed. Regular exercise can improve both your quality and quantity of sleep.

According to SMART Recovery“As the body and mind continue to return to a more normal state, many people in recovery find exercise also helps restore a normal sleep schedule.”

3. Improved Mood

Mood changes can be associated with addiction recovery, and you can help your body adjust to its new circumstances by teaching it to naturally produce those feel-good chemicals that were sought artificially in drugs. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, providing feelings of happiness and well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, just 30 minutes of exercise per day is enough to affect a positive change in mood.

4. Increased Energy

You may be expending plenty of energy when you run, swim, or ride a bicycle, but you will also receive energy in exchange for your efforts. If recovery has left you feeling tired and lethargic at times, regular exercise is one of the ways that you can put some spring back in your step.

5. Stronger Immune System

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health reports that getting regular exercise helps protect your body from certain serious conditions such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, depression, diabetes and osteoporosis.

6. Prevent Relapse

Perhaps the greatest incentive to get regular exercise in addiction recovery is that regular movement can help prevent a return to alcohol or drug use. A collection of studies suggest that regular exercise can increase the abstinence rate for substance use by 95 percent. These studies also found that exercise can help manage stress, depression and anxiety, which can all contribute to substance use.

What Role Does Exercise Play in Recovery?

There are tested and proven correlations between exercise and alcohol recovery. Research shows that exercise releases endorphins to the body, creating a natural high. These are the same type of endorphins people have released when they are abusing substances.

By exercising during recovery, it helps a person reintroduce healthy endorphins back into their body.

According to a study done by Frontiers in Psychiatry on the National Institute of Health, “Accumulating evidence shows that exercise influences many of the same signaling molecules and neuroanatomical structures that mediate the positive reinforcing effects of drugs. These studies have revealed that exercise produces protective effects in procedures designed to model different transitional phases that occur during the development of, and recovery from, a substance use disorder.”

In another study performed on rats, researchers offered the rats a dispenser with various drugs such as nicotine, morphine, and amphetamines.

The rats that used the wheel and exercised, hit the dispenser far less than those that did not exercise at all.

Thus suggesting that exercise can play a very active role in offering a healthy alternative to abusing substances.

What Exercises Are Best for Someone in Recovery?

There is no one-size-fits-all for exercise, whether in recovery or not. Everyone enjoys different methods of getting their sweat on and there truly is no right or wrong way to being more active.

Addiction recovery activities most commonly include the following exercise options but will vary based on the rehabilitation facility:

  • Yoga
  • Cardio
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Aerobic Classes

Treatment facilities offering exercise options typically allow their patients to choose the activity that best suits their preferences. In all reality, any sort of physical activity is beneficial to recovery.

Exercise as a Potential Treatment for Drug Abuse

While it cannot be the sole treatment, there are studies that suggest regular exercise is a potential treatment for drug abuse. Exercise, when combined with other proven forms of addiction treatment, has been shown to produce protective effects in addiction recovery tied to the neurobiological and behavioral outcomes of physical activity.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, the addiction recovery programs at The Recovery Village combine traditional and holistic therapies to create a comprehensive addiction treatment program. Our addiction experts can help you break free from harmful substances and learn a new way to live. Contact us now to find out more about treatment options.

Nicole LaNeve
Editor – Nicole LaNeve
Nicole leads a team of passionate, experienced writers, editors and other contributors to create and share accurate, trustworthy information about drug and alcohol addiction, treatment and recovery for The Recovery Village and all Advanced Recovery Systems sites. Read more
Nanci Stockwell
Medically Reviewed By – Nanci Stockwell, LCSW, MBA
A dynamic leader and award-winning business strategist, Nanci Stockwell brings years of industry experience in behavioral health care to her role at Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

Smith, Mark and Lynch, Wendy. “Exercise as a Potential Treatment for Dr[…]Preclinical Studies.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, January 2012. Accessed July 23, 2019.

Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery.” SMART Recovery, December 26, 2012. Accessed July 23, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.