The Whys and Hows of Incorporating Fitness into Addiction Recovery

Incorporating Fitness Into Addiction Recovery

The Whys and Hows of Incorporating Fitness into Addiction Recovery

Exercise provides many benefits to people recovering from addiction. It releases endorphins, which increase feelings of happiness, reduces cravings, provides daily structure, heals the effects of abuse and withdrawal on the body, raises energy levels, improves sleep, and promotes overall wellbeing.

While the typical treatments of addiction recovery — therapy, medication, medical devices and applications, and mental health evaluation and treatment — are all integral to recovery, an exercise program also facilitates the transition to long-term healing and health.

Types of Exercise for Recovery

Exercise doesn’t require spending hours sweating in a gym, especially if your body is still recovering from the effects of addiction. As you’re working with your team to create your recovery plan, consider these activities that incorporate physical fitness into each day.

Yoga: Yoga strengthens your body and incorporates meditation, which enables you to focus on the present, let go of your worries and stresses about recovery, calm your mind, and ease anxiety. 

Pilates: You’ll improve your flexibility and posture, increase muscle strength and tone especially in your core muscles, gain body awareness, and manage stress with Pilates. This activity can be both aerobic and non-aerobic that involves exercise sequences performed in low repetitions while finding a center point to control the body with movement. 

Swimming: This low-impact activity works wonders for people whose bodies need more time to recover from substance abuse. Water is also quite calming and meditative and relaxing.

Hiking, walking, or jogging in nature: Engaging in activity outdoors boosts dopamine levels. Just 15 minutes of walking reduces cravings. A brisker jog or run boosts brain growth. You’ll also gain exposure to mood-lifting vitamin D and be reminded that nature — and the world — hold great beauty.

Dancing: Blasting your favorite tunes and letting loose on the dance floor — or in your living room — gets your blood moving, heart pumping, and increases energy and flexibility. Check out a dance class, where you’ll learn some new moves and meet new friends.

Strength training: Cardio is great, but strength training and bodyweight exercises help straighten out your sleep cycle if it’s been harmed by substance abuse. Strength training also builds muscle, which may have atrophied during abuse or recovery. Lean muscle also burns body fat that might have built up through past inactivity.

Team sports: Playing on a team facilitates camaraderie and friendships, which are crucial to long-term recovery, especially when those relationships are formed around something other than substance abuse.

Developing a Fitness Plan

The key to success is sticking to a schedule, tracking your progress, setting and sharing your goals with your support system, and asking that system to hold you accountable. 

Experts say it takes anywhere from one to three months to create and keep a new habit. The factors that often derail attempts to incorporate fitness into a daily routine include setting a goal that’s too difficult or overwhelming, setting too many goals and being over-ambitious, and not having the right (or not enough) motivation.

Zenhabits recommends following four simple steps.

  1. Setting a specific, measurable, easy goal.

  2. Logging your workout daily so you can chart — and see — your progress.

  3. Asking others to hold you accountable.

  4. Adding motivation that helps you form the new, positive habit.

Benefits of Exercise for Your Brain

We know that exercise improves your cardiovascular health, reduces the chance of diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, and many other diseases. Exercise also works your brain physically and mentally. Exercise:

  • Boosts brain level functions that drive cognitive abilities.

  • Improves moods and emotions by releasing neurotransmitters including endorphins.

  • Reduces anxiety, relieves stress, increases tolerance to pain, fights depression, increases self-esteem, and so much more.

  • Helps those with anxiety disorders, ADHD, and those recovering from drug abuse.

  • Reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and much more.

Addiction recovery takes time, commitment, and a wide range of treatments to ensure its success. As the Mayo Clinic explains, exercise is “meditation in motion” that increases overall health and wellbeing. Experts know the value of adding exercise to strengthen and reinforce the recovery process by improving health, confidence, and promoting a very real sense of accomplishment. 

Photo Credit:
Writer: Constance Ray of