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The Importance of Exercise to Successful Addiction Recovery

Exercising has gone from fad to must-have over past several decades. Constance Ray has written a detailed packed article outlining why keeping fit & health is so important in the recovery process.

When it comes to addiction recovery, exercise is more than a way to pass the time. In the throes of addiction, people use drugs and alcohol to cope with stress. Once those substances are out of the picture, addicts are left without a way to manage negative emotions. Since anxiety can drive a relapse, it’s important that addicts in recovery develop tools for dealing with stress.

Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are neurochemicals that induce positive feelings and reduce pain. This makes fitness an invaluable resource for addicts trying to overcome cravings and other physical side effects of recovery. Instead of turning to substances for relief, they can turn to physical activity instead. While it’s a big habit change, it equips addicts with the tools to manage cravings long after they’ve left a treatment program. This is especially true because, as evidence suggests, exercise primes the brain for learning new habits. 

Another reason exercise should be a core part of any treatment program is because, like addiction recovery, fitness requires goal setting and self-motivation. As addicts practice meeting short-term goals in their fitness regimen, they’re developing powerful skills that will aid in recovery success.

However, if left unchecked, exercise itself could become an addiction. Addicts might transfer the problematic habits that led to a substance abuse problem onto their fitness regimen, such as obsessing over exercise, prioritizing exercise over other responsibilities, and feeling irritable and anxious without exercise. For that reason, it’s important that addicts monitor their exercise habits and make sure they’re aiding, not hindering, their recovery efforts.

What sort of exercise is best for someone battling addiction? Ultimately, the fitness regimen you can stick to is the right one for you, but some types of exercise are especially popular among people in recovery.


If you’re new to fitness, running is a great option. It costs almost no money, so you don’t have to worry about paying for a gym membership; new runners progress quickly, so you can build confidence and motivation quickly; and you can do it anywhere, so you can sneak in a run whenever a craving hits. Plus, running is known for producing a “runner’s high,” a surge of endorphins that improves your mood, clears your mind, and quells cravings. Find some running trails near you and start moving forward, one step at a time.

To help keep you motivated, as well as to track your progress, consider investing in a smartwatch or fitness tracker. However, keep in mind that these devices aren’t necessarily the same thing. While fitness trackers tend to focus solely on exercise and fitness routines, smartwatches tend to cover a much broader spectrum, allowing you to do everything from checking emails to texting your friends and family. 


Yoga is an excellent exercise both on its own and as a complement to another training regimen. It develops strength, balance, and flexibility, and is recognized as an effective way to strengthen mental fortitude as participants learn to place mind over matter. Yoga routines range from slow and gentle to fast and intense; find a practice that matches your current fitness level and be amazed as you grow.

A great complement to yoga is meditation, which many people find soothing, especially when it comes to addiction recovery. Meditation, however, takes a lot of practice, especially when you’re first starting out. This is why so many people opt to create a cozy, distraction-free meditation space inside their home to help them get into the proper mindset. All you need to do is find an area inside your home, get rid of the clutter in and around it, and then fill it with decorations that you find soothing, whether that’s a statue of Buddha or relaxing artwork by your favorite artist. The most important thing is to create a space where you feel peaceful and calm.


If you’re looking for an exercise that packs a mental health punch, hiking is for you. Not only do you get the mood-boosting effects of aerobic exercise, but simply being in nature can improve your psychological health and contribute to your recovery. Time spent in nature has been shown to alleviate depression and anxiety, reduce rumination, and improve mood and self-esteem. It’s also a great introduction to fitness for addicts who have long neglected physical health. 

For addicts in recovery, exercise offers a much-needed break from the demands and challenges of everyday life. While incorporating fitness into your daily routine is an important part of making sobriety stick, sometimes a bigger getaway is called for. When your recovery journey starts to feel like too much, retreat to the great outdoors to escape everyday stress and spend time focusing on yourself, your health, and your sobriety.

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Constance Ray

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