Medically Reviewed

How Physical Activity Can Help Your Recovery

- 5 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Over the years, research has proven that physical activity is beneficial for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of individuals – especially those in addiction recovery. It’s no secret that drug and alcohol abuse causes severe damage to your mind and body. Addiction changes your body’s chemistry – leaving you trapped in the vicious cycle of this horrible disease. Once you make the decision to get sober, you may feel anxious, lethargic, depressed, and overwhelmed dealing with the mundane everyday stresses of life.  

As your body adjusts and recalibrates itself to a life without drugs or alcohol, it experiences drastic changes. These changes often follow individuals long into their recovery, even after the detoxification period ends. This is when exercise and physical activity are beneficial assets in your recovery. Individuals in recovery who participate in regular physical activity benefit from better sleep, stress reduction, increased energy, enhanced cognitive function, improved mood, and many other benefits. Whether you are new to addiction recovery or have been removed from your addiction for many years, physical activity cultivates a number of proven benefits.


Better Sleep

Sleep-related issues are very common for individuals in early recovery. Regardless of your drug of choice, whether it be a stimulant such as cocaine or a depressant such as alcohol, detoxing off of these substances can greatly affect your sleep. You may experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or extreme fatigue in the middle of the day. Over the counter, non-habit forming medications can help, however, it’s always best to try a more natural remedy. 

Regular physical activity is linked to improving both the number of hours slept and the quality of restful sleep. Furthermore, as sleep improves, so does wakefulness and an individual’s overall energy. Physical exercise can improve the quality and quantity of sleep by properly regulating your body’s temperature.


Stress Reduction

Stress is a common root cause for individuals to begin using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Oftentimes, individuals consume copious amounts of drugs and alcohol in hopes of alleviating stress. However, relief from stress is generally allusive and fleeting. Eventually, alcohol or drug use becomes the direct source of stress for the individual. 

Fortunately, physical activity is directly correlated with stress reduction. Physical activity releases chemicals in the brain such as – dopamine and endorphins – as your circulation also improves. This process naturally combats stress and helps your body and mind focus on something more positive. Ultimately, developing a healthy routine will help you focus on your recovery and achieve a balanced lifestyle.


Improves Mood

Mood swings are one of the most common aspects of the addiction recovery process. For most alcoholics and addicts, the primary driving force behind their addiction was to improve their mood and avoid unwelcome emotions. Even after completing detox, it’s not uncommon for you to experience fluctuating mood changes, anxiety, and depression. One minute you may feel great, then the next you may find yourself lost and confused again. These extreme changes in mood are common for individuals in recovery.

Regular physical activity leads to an increase in the release of endorphins. Research shows that endorphins produce positive feelings such as happiness and euphoria. Often times, these particular emotions are the desired effect that addicts seek from using drugs and alcohol. Maintaining regular exercise can improve your mood for both the short and long term. According to the Mayo Clinic, 30 minutes of daily exercise is enough to minimize anxiety and depression and see positive changes in your overall mood.  


Protects the Body From the Damaging Effects of Addiction

Long-term alcohol abuse damages white matter in the brain. White matter in the brain links brain cells to one another. A study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder found that regular aerobic exercise – biking or running – can protect the brain against this specific type of damage. Physical activity is also linked to protecting the brain from damage caused by drug abuse as well. Physical activity causes the body to create a compound BDNF, which ultimately causes the growth of nerve cells and their connections. 

Physical activity also lowers the risks of an individual in recovery contracting ailments or diseases. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, exercise helps protects individuals from ailments such as:

  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Some Cancers
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression


Reduces the Risk of Relapse

One of the greatest benefits of getting regular exercise during your addiction recovery is that it can dramatically reduce your chances of relapse. According to a recent study, 69% of alcoholics whose rehab included aerobic exercise stayed sober longer than the 62% of individuals in the other control group that did not include daily exercise. Physical activity is a great way to decrease your chance of experiencing a relapse. It is clear that regular physical activity is very beneficial for everyone – especially individuals in addiction recovery.

Regular physical activity can be an effective tool during the recovery process and for life. Whether you choose to visit your local Crossfit gym, go for a run, join a team sport, or begin practicing yoga, maintaining physical exercise increases the likelihood of continued recovery and a healthy lifestyle.