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  • Getting regular exercise can help not just your physical health but your mental and emotional health as well. Exercise is also beneficial to those in recovery for substance abuse and addiction. 

    While exercising in addiction treatment is not a cure-all, it can aid in the recovery process by promoting healthy habits and good self-care practices

    How Exercise Helps With Addiction Recovery

    Exercise can help recovery in multiple different ways and you can start at any time. Whether you’re in detox or you’ve already been to a treatment center and gone through a recovery program, exercise is a great way to stay on the right track.

    Structure & Routine

    One way exercise helps recovery is through structure and routine. When you’re no longer spending your time searching for and using drugs, you may end up with little to do. 

    Exercise can help structure that time and give you something to fill it with. Whether it’s a high-intensity workout class or a quick workout at home, an exercise routine can give you something to do instead of drugs or alcohol.

    Improved Self-Esteem

    Exercise can also create a positive feeling and boost your self-esteem. Exercise produces endorphins in the brain and, when you’re not feeling great or have a strong craving, those endorphins can be a lifesaver. 

    Health Benefits

    Exercise can also help heal your body and your brain from the damage done by substance use disorder. Exercise has many health benefits that can aid in recovery, including: 

    • helping your cardiovascular health
    • increasing the nerve connections in your brain
    • lowering the risk of some cancers
    • building up your immune system
    • alleviating some symptoms of depression

    Benefits Of Exercise In Addiction Recovery

    As long as you’re able to move your body without hurting yourself, there are really no disadvantages to working out while in recovery. There are tons of benefits to exercising both during and after addiction treatment. 

    Stress Reduction

    Stress can be a huge obstacle in addiction recovery. Trying to overcome alcohol or drug abuse isn’t exactly stress-free. 

    Physical activity can release serotonin and endorphins and improve blood circulation which both lead to less stress. Stress can also lead to relapse and exercise is a great tool for prevention.

    Better Sleep

    Having trouble sleeping is a common occurrence when going through recovery. Exercise not only helps you sleep more, but it can also improve how well you sleep. Regular exercise stimulates the recuperative processes that rebuild strength and restore health during sleep.

    Improved Mood

    The endorphins that come with exercise can also improve your mood and overall well-being. Even if it’s just 30 minutes, that’s enough to change your mood dramatically. 

    Exercise releases neurotransmitters in the brain that include serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. These chemical messengers all play a role in regulating mood and making emotional highs and lows less noticeable.

    Increased Energy

    While you may not have a ton of energy when you first start exercising, your energy levels will go up the more you do it. 

    Exercise moves blood through the heart quicker and increases the amount of oxygen flowing through your muscles. This leads to the body having a greater capacity for releasing energy throughout the day and higher energy levels overall. 

    Stronger Immune System

    Exercising regularly can also strengthen your immune system and help protect your body from things like cancer, stroke, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

    Relapse Prevention

    Possibly one of the most important benefits of exercise for those is that it can help prevent a relapse. Multiple studies have shown a regular exercise regimen can significantly increase the rate of abstinence from drugs or alcohol .

    The Role Of Exercise In Substance Abuse Treatment

    Many types of exercise programs or activities are available in residential treatment programs. Outdoor activities or exercise are often built into your individualized treatment options and may include:


    Being out in nature can be great for your mental health and hiking on trails through the woods is good exercise. If you change up your route every couple of days, it will never get boring either. Many rehab centers have trail networks that run through campus.


    Running is a great way to develop a routine, de-stress and set and achieve goals. After treatment ends, run at the same time every day, set distance and time goals for yourself, and listen to music to zone out. 


    If you’re dealing with an injury or joint problems, swimming can be a perfect low-impact exercise. The water can keep you grounded and relieve tension and aches. Addiction treatment options with extra amenities, like a swimming pool, are readily available.


    Cycling can get your blood flowing while not being as high impact as running. Although cycling is less common at a treatment center, joining a class or club after the program is a great way to meet people with similar interests.


    Doing yoga can help you practice mindfulness, reduce stress, focus on your breathing and your body instead of stressors, and improve your mental health and overall wellness. Most treatment programs offer holistic care options that include yoga and other mindfulness practices.

    Team Sports

    Many recovery centers offer team sport activities to give you a place to be social and build strong connections with other peers in recovery. Whether it’s basketball, soccer, volleyball, or hockey, it doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy it.

    If you or your loved one struggles with alcohol or drug addiction, contact us today to find out which treatment program is best for you.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on June 24, 2022
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