12 Reasons Exercise Aids Addiction Recovery

Exercise is an important part of living a healthy life for everyone, but it is especially important for individuals in recovery.

In a study examining the exercise behaviors of individuals in an outpatient addiction treatment program, however, only 29% were actually working out. The most common reasons cited for this low number were lack of time, difficulties with transportation, and lack of money. Most of the patients were interested in exercising but noted that they lacked the motivation to work through their perceived barriers. We’ve provided a list of motivational reasons to exercise below, and we hope it helps to change your physical fitness routine for the better!


1. Exercise Helps Repair The Damage Caused By Addictive Substances

Introducing toxins into the body through regular drug and alcohol consumption wrecks havoc in the body. The cellular damage accumulates over years of alcohol and drug use, requiring extensive periods of abstinence and potentially therapeutic drugs and surgery to heal. Exercising is one of the most therapeutic activities you can do to start repairing the cellular damage. Working out elevates blood flow, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients that organs receive, and ultimately expedites the reparation process.


2. Exercise Builds Self-Confidence

Exercise improves people’s outlook on life. People who exercise feel more optimistic about their future and have more confidence in themselves. Exercising helps people who have dependencies on drugs and alcohol feel more positive about their potential to overcome their addiction.


3. It Relieves the Stress and Physical Tension in the Body

Every day stressors can cause the buildup of tension in the body. Exercise allows for the flexing and stretching of muscles, so those feelings of tension can be released. Try some of our recommended yoga poses if chronic pain is an issue for you (/dream-journal/175-yoga-for-chronic-pain)


4. Exercise Induces Happiness

Exercising induces the release of endorphins and cannabinoids. These chemicals induce feelings of reward and pleasure in the brain, similar to that produced by alcohol, cocaine, and other substances of abuse. The chemical signaling induced by the naturally produced compounds help restore the damage done by the unnatural addictive drugs. Endorphins and cannabinoids counteract the loss of feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness that many ex-drug users feel when they first experience abstinence.


5. It Decreases Sensitivity To Drug Stimulation

In animal model studies, working out reduced the effects of drugs on the body. Rats that engaged in aerobic exercise self-administered cocaine less frequently than sedentary rats, even though they had the same amount of drugs and same access to drugs.


6. Exercise Improves Mood and Reduces Depression and Anxiety

Populations who have issues with depression and anxiety experience improvements in their mood when they regularly exercise. Because feelings of depression and anxiety are associated with higher rates of relapse, exercising helps maintain abstinence.


Group Jogging


7. Decreased Urges And Cravings

Exercise was shown in some studies to decrease urges to smoke and decrease the anticipation that smoking would be rewarding and pleasurable. Working out is expected to decrease urges for other drugs as well, but the research is preliminary.


8. Working Out Functions As A Coping Strategy

Working out is a healthy way to cope with feelings of sadness and frustration. It is a safe way to release pent up anger and hostility felt towards friends, family, or coworkers in a way that does not destroy relationships. In times of high stress, exercise ameliorates stress and reduces the perceived need to drink or take drugs.


9. Exercise Improves Sleep

Insomnia is a common complaint among many individuals who have recently quit alcohol and/or drugs. Regular exercise can counteract this withdrawal symptom and improve sleep quality.


10. Exercise Reduces Weight Gain

During addiction treatment, some individuals begin to perceive their drug cravings as cravings for food and start to eat more often. This often leads to weight gain, which can be negative past a certain point. Exercising provides those working through addiction treatment a method to counteract this weight gain.


11. It’s A Healthy Way To Keep Busy That Does Not Involve Alcohol

Some people who are switching to a life free of drugs and alcohol find that they get bored at certain times (particularly at night) and don’t know what to do because they usually would have spent this time at a bar or doing drugs. Exercising can fill some of these scheduling voids.


12. Gives You A Sense Of Accomplishment
Regularly exercising is vital for a healthy lifestyle; it improves multiple aspects of your health and boosts energy levels. People who moderately exercise 2.5 hours (or vigorously work out for 1.25 hours) a week live 3.4 years longer than those who do not exercise. Knowing that the work they are doing is improving their lives gives people a sense of satisfaction and self-accomplishment, and this boosting of the self-esteem is therapeutic for individuals troubled by feelings of failure.


What Type of Exercise Should I Be Doing?

Research has not conclusively shown one way of exercising to be much better than another, though studies have shown that forcing exercise on individuals before they are ready to put it into their schedule has actually been shown to increase stress levels.

Working out is a form of individualized treatment and needs to be specially selected to fit the needs and interests of the person in treatment. They need to be enjoyable, fit with the person’s interests, and make sense in regards to the resources they have available.

For those who don’t have access to transportation or much money, there is good news: walking is an effective exercise. It has been shown in studies to significantly increase aerobic fitness and decrease body weight, body mass index, and percent body fat. Walking and brief bouts of exercise are associated with decreased urges for drinking and smoking.

If you are currently trying to figure out how to incorporate more fitness activities into your schedule, don’t fret any longer; just start small, for example by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and work up to loftier goals as your comfort levels increase.








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