The benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety


Sydney Schulz on April 2, 2021 at 8:24 AM

By Tara Lockhart

Addiction is a serious attack on a person's physical and mental wellbeing. Therefore, once an individual struggling with addiction commences their journey to recovery, focusing on rebuilding both of these elements is crucial. During treatment, a person in recovery will receive help developing coping mechanisms to do precisely that. However, after the treatment, it becomes elemental to continue maintaining all the work and results achieved in therapy. One way to do that is by incorporating physical activity into the daily routine. The structure is vital for people dealing with addiction, and regular exercise can help immensely establish it. There are more benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety, and this article will focus on them.

The key is to pair physical activity with other types of treatment. The fact that recovering individuals have a solid routine, and productive and more positive activities to fill up their free time to rely on, will go a long way in preventing relapse. Moreover, regular exercise provides an effective tool for managing mental health. Similar can be achieved with hobbies during recovery. And most importantly, such activities will do wonders for a person's self-esteem. Resorting to workout to manage stress will make people feel much about themselves than going back to harmful behaviors. Working on self-esteem and building a better image of oneself is critical for staying on the right path. 

So, let's see what benefits one can expect to see relatively quickly upon taking up a sport. 

Physical exercise reduces stress

The release from stress that used to come after a glass of wine in the evening disappears once the line between an occasional glass of alcohol and dependence on drugs or alcohol has been crossed. And increasing the amounts of substance intake will not bring that feeling back. Eventually, stress relief becomes a distant memory and what used to bring peace and calmness is now the primary cause of stress. Unfortunately, when an individual decides to receive treatment, the anxiety does not disappear. 

However, the good news is that physical exercise can help considerably. Any activity that will make the heart beat faster will help reduce stress. And stress management is one of the most important skills people in recovery have to learn. Chemicals released during exercise serve to fight off stress and can have both long and short-term effects. Therefore, a healthy routine will prove indispensable for maintaining balance in the life of individuals coping with addiction.

One of the benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety is keeping cravings at bay

As we have mentioned, regular physical activity can help prevent relapse. There has even been some research proving that exercise can help increase the number of days a person remains abstinent, which is crucial for recovery. In one study, participants who had substance abuse issues and did moderate aerobic training for 12 weeks had considerably better results than those who didn't partake in any physical activity. 

The reason for such results is that exercise increases oxygen and nutrients saturation in the muscles, making the body stronger and leading to more energy. This makes everyday activities more manageable and helps resist the urge to use drugs or alcohol, even cigarettes. 

Exercise helps boost mood

Exercise releases serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine, all of which play a significant role in mood regulation. It is essential for recovering individuals to manage mood swings. And these will happen as they experience withdrawal symptoms and while their body is learning to function without opiates. Therefore, regular exercise can help with balancing those feelings of high and low. Even 30 minutes dedicated to working out every day can have an incredible impact on mood.

The role of physical activity in mood regulation is highlighted by the expression "runner's high." It's the feeling of euphoria that people experience post-workout due to dopamine release, aka the happiness hormone. Thus, relying on a healthy habit to bring that happiness rush instead of a dangerous substance is one of the greatest benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety. 

Physical activity improves sleep

During recovery, individuals often have trouble sleeping, especially in the beginning. Exercise has helped many restore the regular sleep patterns. It helps people fall asleep faster, and everyone who has worked out regularly can testify that their sleep quality has improved. The key is to figure out the part of the day to exercise that best suits every individual. We are all different, so it would be best to listen to our bodies. We should decide whether the morning or evening routine works for us. 

Normal sleep pattern is another important element for creating a structure and setting up a daily schedule for a healthy life. As mentioned, having a routine that incorporates exercise in place will fill free time. Also, it will provide individuals with something more positive and productive to occupy their thoughts. 

Replacing a harmful addiction with a healthy one

As we have already discussed, exercise promoted dopamine release. Drug and alcohol use also affects dopamine receptors in our brains. Thus, it seems helpful to replace harmful substance use with a healthier habit. So, it stands to reason that one can achieve the feelings that drugs or alcohol have provided by resorting to a much more beneficial activity.

So that is one of the reasons why individuals in recovery replace drug or alcohol abuse with exercise. One thing that physical exercise will do is help push out bad coping skills and replace them with more positive and helpful mechanisms. Moreover, it can be beneficial to exercise with someone. That person can be there both for support and accountability. Having someone to respond to will help keep recovering individuals on the right track. A sound support system in recovery and sobriety is critical.  

Different types of exercise for recovery and sobriety

The important thing is to choose an activity that will provide joy and not cause stress. Different people will find different forms of exercise enjoyable. Running and other aerobic activities can provide fast stress release and suppress cravings. Yoga is another excellent option that is becoming increasingly popular among people in recovery. Among other benefits, yoga teaches people to be in tune with their bodies, listen to them, and regulate breathing. 

Swimming is also an excellent activity. It can help individuals cope with stress and tension, feel mentally refreshed, and feel good about themselves. Another reason why it's so great for people in recovery is that swimming can be done at any pace; it's suitable for all ages, all fitness levels, and all health histories. 

Finally, there is hiking. One can do it anywhere - in the park, nearby woods. It doesn't only have to be a mountain. What matters is to be outside and feel the therapeutic effects of being in the sun and receiving a healthy dose of vitamin D. Feeling the warmth and connecting to nature is bound to lift the mood. 

Final words

The world is vast. Addiction is only a tiny part of it. So, the ultimate benefit of exercise for recovery and sobriety is that it will give individuals a chance to experience some of the world's wonders. It's essentially a wonderful place, but it's easy to forget about this fact while fighting addiction demons. Spending time outside, in nature, with others, doing something for yourself can show you that there is so much beauty around you worth staying sober for. 


Meta: Benefits of exercise for recovery and sobriety are numerous. This article will focus on the most significant advantages of it.

By Tara Lockhart


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