Recoverywoman running in chiang mai

The Real Benefits of Exercise for Addiction Recovery


Exercise has been shown to have great benefits on physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health. It’s a fact we’ve known for decades.


What about the connection between exercise and addiction recovery though? Does lifting weights, Muay Thai boxing, or going on a beach walk have something to do with getting clean and staying sober? Well, it turns out that the two could be more closely related than you’d expect.


As your body adjusts and recalibrates itself to live without drugs and alcohol, it goes through a number of changes and processes. While those changes are positive in the long term, they can seem intolerable in the short term.


Less energy, a heightened sense of stress and anxiety, a lack of sleep, and depression can hound people who are trying to get clean. The effects can persist even after detoxification. That’s where exercise can help. People in recovery programs who regularly exercise can all benefit from reduced stress, more energy, better sleep, better mood, and more.

5 Ways Exercise Can Help With Addiction Recovery

Extra Energy

A common saying in recovery circles is that you have to “give it away to keep it”. The same applies to spending energy for exercise. In order to get energy, you must first give it away. Blood is pushed through your heart more aggressively when you exercise, and more oxygen is pumped around your body. This boost in oxygen levels helps facilitate an overall increase in energy levels.


As your body becomes fitter and more used to cardiovascular exercise, it becomes easier to do the daily activities you need to do. You handle things more efficiently and spend less energy doing so. This is the reason that people like to exercise first thing in the morning. They spend energy early in the day to get fuel to make it through the rest of the day.


People who are in the early stages of recovery can forget the demanding nature of normal life without drugs and alcohol. Making exercise a part of the recovery process can help these people better manage the demands of their daily lives.

Better Sleep

Problems related to sleep are common with recovery, especially in the early stages. No matter what drug one abuses, whether it’s a stimulate like cocaine or a depressant like alcohol, cessation of those substances – and other such substances – drastically affects sleep.


Problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and a desire to sleep in the middle of the day can present themselves. This leaves the recovering individual feeling sluggish and tired all the time. While natural, over-the-counter products can help, there is an even more natural remedy available.

woman sleeping at rehab

Exercising regularly improves sleep on several fronts; notably that it improves how long one sleeps for and the overall quality of sleep, while also helping to fight the urge to nap during the day. As the quality of sleep improves, so does wakefulness. People who exercise regularly and sleep properly are more alert and better able to deal with anything life throws at them.


One way that exercising can improve sleep quality is by affecting body temperature. Our body temperature is highest during and immediately after exercise, and it is at its lowest when we are asleep. The body starts to cool off faster than normal a few hours after exercise. This cooling process makes it easier to fall asleep at night.


Researchers do caution that the noticeable improvements to sleep, in regards to exercising, can take a few weeks – if not months – to fully manifest. So don’t get too discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away. Don’t forget that your body is adjusting to living without alcohol and drugs, and it needs to do this on a range of fronts, including sleep.

Stress Relief

When someone becomes dependent on drugs and alcohol, they have a harder time getting the stress relief that they want when they have a quick drink after work. The stress relief that started them on the path in the first place. They need to take more drugs or have more to drink to get the same relief. However, the stress relief only gets more elusive and will eventually disappear entirely. Drinking and drug use even become a source of stress instead of a relief.


So, what will happen to someone when they choose to get treatment for their addiction? Does that stress go away? We wish things were as simple as that. The good news is that it is possible to reduce stress through just about any physical activity that gets the heart going. Stress is something that everyone in recovery has to learn to deal with if they want to stay clean and sober and live a better life.


Regular exercise has been shown to be effective at alleviating stress in the short-and-long-term. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that help to fight stress. By exercising regularly and incorporating a healthy routine that can be used to handle the stress of work and family life, it goes a long way to helping a recovering substance abuser to live in balance.

Boosted Mood

Changes in mood are common when detoxing from dugs and alcohol. These mood changes can persist after the detoxification process into early recover. The recovering addict feels on top of the world one minute, and then suddenly feels lost and disheartened the next. This is caused by the body adjusting to living without drugs and alcohol, and these feelings are natural and normal.

So, how does exercise help to manage the mood of a recovering addict? Exercise releases endorphins into the body. This chemical has been shown to create positive feelings like euphoria and happiness. These are the same feelings that people were taking drugs to achieve in the first place. Much like stress reduction, research shows that the exercise offers benefits for mood across the short and long term.


One of the benefits of getting professional treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is being guided down the uncertain, often scary path of managing stress, sleeping problems, loss of energy, and changes in mood by medical professionals.

happy woman rehab thailand

Some medical professionals are all too quick to diagnose recovering addicts with bipolar disorder and depression. In their defense, it is true that prolonged drug and drink use can mimic the symptoms and behavior associated with mental health conditions. However, these fluctuations are also common during the early stages of recovery. That’s why it’s important to utilize addiction recovery specialists who understand that addicts should be given time after abstaining from substances before they are considered depressed or bipolar.


Choosing a good treatment center that promotes exercise as a healthy coping tool also helps set the foundations for continued recovery after the treatment is over.

Protection Against Disease

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion suggest that exercising can help to prevent many illnesses, ailments, and diseases including;


  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Some cancers


Exercise is an effective tool during not just the recovery process, but for life as a whole. Whether you practice aerobics, running, team sports, or yoga, stay on the move to improve your chances of recovery and a healthy life.

Are you ready to make a change?