How to Go About Exercising When Recovering From Addiction

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March 7, 2018
exercise, addiction

Addiction can be the most difficult roadblock a person must overcome to achieve a fulfilling life. There is no miracle cure for overcoming addictive behavior, but there are proven methods and behaviors that universally increase one’s chance for success. One of the behaviors that can stave off addictive cravings while improving our longevity and self-worth is exercise. Finding exercises that are enjoyable and easy to replicate help us clear our mind of negative thoughts. Exercise also occupies time formerly spent in addictive behaviors.

The Mental Benefits of Exercise

Addiction begins in the mind. Medical News Daily explains that addiction contains an element of psychological dependency that often causes feelings of shame and guilt. One of the psychological drivers of addiction is anxiety, but addictions can also be misguided, unhealthy attempts at curing other emotions such as loneliness or depression, says Psychology Today. To curb an addiction, activities shown to reduce anxiety and other negative emotions must be embraced.

Perhaps you guessed it: exercise produces many effects that combat the symptoms of depression and anxiety, two disorders which often lead to addiction. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental health deficiency in America, affecting approximately 40 million adults. With anxiety becoming increasingly prevalent in adolescents and teens, exercise is more needed than ever to stave off unhealthy forms of self-medication.

Exercise does not necessarily need to be strenuous in order for the participant to reap mental-health rewards. However, workout regimens do need to be consistent and daily, just as addictive urges are.

Which Exercise is Right for You?

It’s not a stretch to say that any exercise is good exercise, and this is even more true for those hoping to remain sober. A New York Times wellness columnist explains that exercise activates the same pleasure centers as drugs and alcohol. This is why those who engage in routine exercise are less likely to rely on alcohol or drugs; their need for pleasure is filled as they break a sweat.

With that said, many addicts will find that aerobic exercise is particularly effective in combating cravings associated with addiction. A study involving a 12-week, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise program yielded convincing results. Participants reported finding that alcohol served as a positive alternative to alcohol use, reduced depressive symptoms and negative moods, decreased stress while improving coping skills, increased self-efficacy, and reduced urges to drink.

There are many aerobic exercises that can provide relaxation along with these mental and physical health benefits. Yoga has been shown to relieve negative symptoms associated with addiction. These include physical pain, problems sleeping, headaches, and the inability to concentrate. Yoga was also shown to reduce the prevalence of drug use. Meditation also has proven mental benefits that reduce anxiety, creating peace of mind that so many addicts seek through harmful methods such as drinking, drugs, or gambling.

One activity that has a low-impact on the body while providing the physical and mental benefits of exercise is swimming. If you can get access to a lap pool, this activity can help to clear the mind while producing biological effects that help stave off addictive urges.


Few of us are able to escape the throes of addiction on our own. Still, most adults facing addiction cannot have 24/7 caretakers. Most of us could not afford such a thing, and even if we could, the responsibilities of holding a job and socializing would make it an untenable arrangement. For that reason, we must find healthy outlets that assist us in staying sober on our own. For anybody in recovery, consistent exercise should be at the top of that activity list. It provides mental and physical boosts, and without exercise, addicts stand little chance at maintaining sobriety for a prolonged period of time.

Struggling with addiction? Visit our Resource page for some helpful resources.

Caleb Anderson

Caleb Anderson

Caleb Anderson is in recovery from an opiate addiction. He hopes sharing his experiences will help others. He co-created to help people with substance abuse disorders and their families.

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