Ways Exercise Helps with Addiction Recovery

Addiction isn’t just a product of habit; chemical imbalances in the brain play a major role in what activities people seek. An excess of the stress chemicals cortisol and epinephrine can lead people toward drugs and alcohol, which may offer temporary relief at the cost of mental and physical health. People who are in recovery from addiction have a healthier and more positive option: exercise. In this article we will share with you the ways exercise helps with addiction recovery.

Positive Stress Relief

People recovering from drug or alcohol addiction are familiar with the high associated with their substance of choice. That feeling is actually the brain releasing endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals shown to relieve stress. Physical exercise has a similar, but healthy, effect on the mind. Behavioral treatments such as exercise combat the negative emotions of being unhappy or feeling sluggish.1 An intense period of exertion releases two types of chemicals: endorphins that make the individual feel good and endocannabinoids that boost this feeling.

Numerous studies support the stress-relieving effects of exercise. The studies are based around the fact that exercise activates the chemical galanin, which reduces cravings brought on by stress. One such study with laboratory mice found that mice who ran on a wheel experienced fewer and less intense cocaine cravings than their stationary counterparts. Another study in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health found that individuals who engaged in regular exercise as part of a rehab program reported reduced substance intake and a greatly improved quality of living. Several studies showed that smokers who exercised several times a week reported fewer cravings and easier respiration.

Better Self Image

There are few feelings better than a positive self-image. For recovering addicts, a lack of confidence brought on by poor self-concept can lead to relapses and other symptoms such as depression and anxiety. People who begin an exercise regimen often see noticeable results in a short period of time. This feeling of achievement and self worth encourages sticking with the program, which helps shorten the path to recovery.

Many newcomers to exercise also become interested in healthy nutrition, meditation and other positive changes that can amplify their chances of recovery. What’s more, people who go to the gym surround themselves with others who are pursuing similar health goals, potentially creating a network of support and advice.

Total Lifestyle Change

There is no doubt that exercise promotes healthy behaviors both inside and outside the gym. Studies show that individuals who participate in regular exercise experience numerous residual benefits, including increased energy, better sleep, improved breathing and a more positive mental state overall.3 This positivity encourages continued exercise while steering the mind away from harmful substances. A strong body is much better equipped to handle the often intense withdrawal symptoms that can crop up from time to time.

A positive mindset forged through intense activity has better odds of fighting off negative emotional symptoms. This “meditation in motion” can potentially reshape an individual’s personal, professional and social life. Because everyone is unique, exercise may not provide a standalone solution to addiction. An inpatient treatment program offers a structured approach to learning and applying exercise and other positive behaviors. With proper guidance and encouragement, individuals can greatly improve their chances of leading a substance-free life.


  1. https://bradfordhealth.com/exercise-during-addiction-recovery/
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/addiction-treatment-exercise_n_1291862.html

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