Racing Toward Recovery:
The Importance of Exercise in Recovery

There’s no question that traditional therapy is vital when it comes to recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism. Working through your issues is imperative to making a full recovery.

What you may not realize, however, is how much of a role exercise can play in your recovery as well. Studies have shown that people who participate in exercise-related activities have significantly longer periods of abstinence than those who don’t. Even one exercise session can temporarily reduce urges to use, according to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

That is because exercise has many benefits to people in recovery:

  • It builds confidence
  • It elevates mood and prevents mood swings
  • It reduces stress
  • It distracts from temptations
  • It decreases levels of depression and anxiety
  • It teaches people in recovery to set and meet goals
  • It helps return the body to its natural, pre-addiction state
  • It provides motivation and a sense of accomplishment

The act of exercising also provides a natural high through the release of endorphins. The more natural endorphins that are released, the less you will feel like you need substances to get high. Long-term exercise can alter the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, which gives drugs a less euphoric effect.

Getting Active

Whether it’s going for a walk, riding a bike, doing aerobics or mowing the lawn, any activity can be considered exercise. The important thing is to make an effort to do it.

“When people are actively engaged in exercise, they are doing better,” said Richard A. Brown, director of addiction research at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I. “The question is how to keep them engaged.”

Getting active can be easier if you do it with a friend or with other people in your support group. That will provide you with the motivation you need to exercise on a regular basis. Exercising with someone also makes the time go faster, and may challenge you in new ways.

If you spend time at a residential treatment center, exercise will be part of your therapeutic regimen. Many centers offer scheduled exercise classes such as aerobics and yoga, as well as hikes, horseback riding and other outdoor activities. If these are offered, participate so that you will be more motivated to continue being active once you have completed your stay.  

It is likely the high you will experience from scaling a steep mountain, running that extra mile or being able to lift more weight will be better than any high you experienced through substances.