Physical activity and exercise provide countless physical and mental health benefits. You are probably aware that moving more can help you lose weight, prevent numerous medical conditions, and experience other advantages. But, did you know that exercise may also be a valuable tool to fight drug and alcohol addiction?

Some research supports the therapeutic benefits of exercise, which is why reputable addiction rehabilitation facilities incorporate exercise and other physical activities in their treatment programs. You do not have to go to the gym or engage in competitive sports to experience the positive effects of exercise.  Low-impact physical activity such as walking for at least half an hour a day can produce beneficial results.

What Are the Benefits of Exercise?

Regularly committing to some form of physical activity, such as walking in the park, jogging, or hiking may help fight substance use disorder. Some ways exercise may help people achieve long-term sobriety include:

Exercise Deters Cravings

People may become hooked on drugs because of the pleasurable feelings the substances evoke. This feeling of euphoria or feeling of being high may be so intense that people crave it and eventually act (use drugs) to experience that feeling again.

When people undergo treatment, managing drug cravings may be difficult.  Just because you are inside an addiction facility and in a different environment do not mean that you automatically become a different person. Your body may continue to crave drugs, especially if you used them for a long time.

Since it provides a natural high, exercise may help decrease urges and cravings. Exercise stimulates your brain to release endorphins, chemicals that cause positive feelings. It produces pleasurable feelings that are similar to the effects of drugs such as morphine, but without the risks of addiction or other harmful side effects.

Moderate aerobic exercise decreases cravings in adults who were dependent on marijuana, according to one study.  This research, along with other studies, illustrates that exercise may reduce the desire to use drugs.

Exercise Reduces Stress

Stress may contribute to addictions. It is why recovering addicts may be highly vulnerable to relapse after treatment. Since stress may relate to addictions, it is important to learn how to reduce stress levels.

One effective way to relieve stress may be through exercise. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which produces feelings of happiness, improves your mood, biofeedback and makes you feel relaxed.  Exercise can help you forget things that upset or irritate you since it requires you to focus on your body movements instead of your negative thoughts.

Exercise Fights Boredom

If you attend an addiction rehab program, you may discover that you have more free time because you are not spending time using or looking for drugs. You may become bored and find yourself craving drugs and thinking about drug use. Instead of letting your mind wander and becoming vulnerable to relapse, you may want to spend your time exercising.

Visiting the gym, jogging, hiking, swimming, or engaging in other physical activities will occupy your time.  Once you complete your physical activities, you may be feeling a natural high from endorphins and no longer think about drug use.

Exercise Helps Improve Your Physical and Mental Health

Long-term drug addiction may harm the various organs and systems of your body, particularly your brain, heart, and lungs. It may also affect your cognitive functions and mental health. Essentially, addiction sickens your entire being.

When you use regular exercise to complement traditional addiction treatment strategies, you may help restore your physical and mental health more quickly.  Exercise improves the function of your circulatory, skeletal, and respiratory systems. This means it will help you eventually develop a healthier heart and cardiac system, bones, and lungs.

Studies reveal that exercise also helps release chemical growth factors that maintain the health of nerve cells. Physical activities facilitate the growth of new nerve cells and boost the number of new nerve cells.  This is particularly important since drug abuse may damage your brain.

Endorphins released during exercise may relieve anxiety and depression as well as other mental health disorders. Addiction may contribute to mental health illnesses and vice versa. In fact, records show that 7.9 million individuals in the United States alone have both an addiction and some form of mental illness.

Exercise Promotes Restful Sleep

If you had trouble getting a good night’s rest while you were using drugs, there is a good chance that you will have difficulty sleeping while in recovery.  A study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that the incidence of insomnia among individuals in early addiction recovery is higher than the rest of the population.  Given the importance of restful sleep in your addiction recovery journey and in preventing relapse, you way want to consider using exercise to improve your sleep.

Participating in a brief exercise routine of fifteen to thirty minutes, three to four hours before bedtime may lessen the amount of time it takes for someone to fall asleep and may improve your total sleep time.  If you want a routine that you can perform before sleep, you may want to perform stretching exercises to help you sleep soundly.

Exercise Serves as a Healthy Coping Strategy

Some people abuse drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms. Instead of feeling the pain of loneliness, failure, or problems, people may use drugs to relieve their misery.

If you think that you are using drugs to cope with your issues, it is important to find healthier alternatives.  While you are participating in treatment or living in the real world after treatment, you may want to use exercise as a healthy coping strategy.

Abusing drugs may provide temporary relief, but can ruin your physical and mental health and your relationships.  Exercise, on the other hand, may help you ease your pain. It may gradually improve your physical, mental, and psychological well-being.

How Can You Incorporate Exercise in Your Daily Life?

Regular exercise may benefit your addiction recovery journey. Incorporating physical activity in your daily life is important for many reasons.  If you are one of the 23 percent of Americans who are having trouble exercising regularly, you may want to consider:

  • Adding variety to your routine to make it more interesting. Instead of going to the gym or using fitness videos at home, engage in activities that you love.  You can take a stroll in the park, walk your dog, hike, swim, or dance.
  • Setting realistic goals and starting small. Do not push yourself too hard or burden yourself when you begin exercising. Maybe start by committing to thirty minutes of continuous physical activity three times a week in your first few weeks, then slowly increasing your amount of exercise time.

  • Taking as many opportunities to exercise as possible. Use the stairs instead of the elevator, walk as much as possible, perform simple exercise routines while watching television, and do other things to keep yourself active.

Your addiction recovery journey may not be easy, but it is doable. You can utilize various strategies to improve your chances of restoring your life. Regular exercise is one such strategy.  You do not have to be a fitness buff, either. Just commit to get your body moving, one day at a time.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

Sunshine Behavioral Health Facilities


Chapters Capistrano


Monarch Shores


Mountain Springs


Willow Springs


Lincoln Recovery

Find out more about our admissions process