The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Addiction Recovery

Exercise and Recovery

Addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol often comes with a heavy price- it takes a toll on mental, physical, and emotional health. In many cases, addiction causes severe lifestyle imbalances and strained relationships with loved ones. In rehab centers worldwide, recovering addicts are encouraged to embrace not only mental and emotional practices but also physical exercises in their recovery journey. This article seeks to explore the role of exercise and physical activity in addiction recovery and provide relevant statistics to back up the claims.

Why is exercise important for addiction recovery?

Exercise has a plethora of benefits, some of which directly contribute to overcoming addiction, while others promote overall well-being. Some of the primary reasons that exercise is encouraged in addiction recovery include the following:

  • Enhanced Mental Health: Exercise has long been associated with improved mental health. This is attributed to the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that create a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Considering that recovering addicts often battle depression and anxiety, exercise significantly boosts their mental health during the recovery process.
  • Improved Sleep: During withdrawal, many recovering addicts experience insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. Regular exercise helps regulate sleep, as well as reducing stress and anxiety, both of which contribute to sleep disorders.
  • Better Coping Skills: Exercise not only strengthens the body but also improves resilience, mental fortitude, and coping skills. These are essential tools for recovering addicts as they navigate the difficult journey of overcoming their addiction.
  • Reduced Cravings: Physical activity has been shown to reduce cravings and lessen the adverse effects of withdrawal. Studies show that aerobic exercise has a positive impact on reducing cravings in individuals recovering from substance abuse (see Ussher, Taylor, & Faulkner, 2014).
  • Building a Healthy Routine: Integrating exercise into a daily routine promotes structure and discipline, key elements in maintaining a life free from addiction. Additionally, regular exercise provides a sense of accomplishment and positive reinforcement.

Types of exercises beneficial for addiction recovery

Not all types of exercises are recommended for individuals recovering from addiction, as it is essential to engage in activities that promote relaxation, focus, and self-control. Some exercises that have been proven beneficial for addiction recovery include:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Tai Chi
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Aerobic exercises (such as jogging, cycling, or dance classes)

Exercise and addiction recovery – The statistics

The connection between physical activity and addiction recovery is extensively researched. The following statistics offer valuable insights into the role of exercise in overcoming addiction:

  • A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry found that regular exercise during addiction recovery reduced relapse rates by up to 17% (see Meeusen, de Geus, & Nederhof, 2018).
  • In a meta-analysis of 22 studies, it was found that regular exercise led to significant reductions in cravings for various substances (see Wang, Wang, & You, 2014).
  • A systematic review found that incorporating physical activity into addiction treatment programs led to improved program completion rates and longer periods of abstinence (see Linke & Ussher, 2015).


Exercise and physical activity play a crucial role in addiction recovery, as they aid in coping with withdrawal symptoms, improve mental and physical health, and establish a healthy routine. The positive impact of exercise on recovery outcomes is well-supported by research and is a valuable tool in the long and challenging journey of overcoming addiction.

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Linke, S. E., & Ussher, M. (2015). Exercise-Based Treatments for Substance Use Disorders: Evidence, Theory, and Practicality. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse, 41(1), 7-15.

Meeusen, R., de Geus, B., & Nederhof, E. (2018). Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 669.

Ussher, M., Taylor, A., & Faulkner, G. (2014). Exercise interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 8(8).

Wang, D., Wang, Y., & You, X. (2014). The role of physical exercise in treatment of substance use disorders: a meta-analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 11(6), 2646-60.

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