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The Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery


Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a complex, chronic, neurological disorder. The Mayo Clinic explains addiction as a disease “that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication” without regard for consequence. Since the disease compels an individual to prioritize satisfying her substance cravings above all else, an individual struggling with addiction can experience a plethora of adverse effects, including physical complications, relationship fractures, financial strain, legal challenges, employment issues, and more. Part of the recovery process is to prioritize engaging in healthy habits, like regular exercise, that help to achieve an ideal mental and physical balance.

Benefits Of Exercise 

Exercise can be a powerful tool in addiction recovery, providing numerous benefits for individuals who are working to overcome substance use disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry published an article referring to preclinical studies that indicate “accumulating evidence shows that exercise influences many of the same signaling molecules and neuroanatomical structures that mediate the positive reinforcing effects of drugs. These studies have revealed that exercise produces protective effects in procedures designed to model different transitional phases that occur during the development of, and recovery from, a substance use disorder.” Depending on the individual’s physical ability and preference, different forms of exercise that could benefit one’s addiction recovery could include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing, aerobics, yoga, and more. Engaging in regular exercise can also help with:

  • Release of endorphins: participating in regular exercise is a natural way for one’s body to release endorphins, triggering positive feelings in one’s body and reducing pain. 
  • Enhancing brain function: a major study found that physical activity spurs the release of proteins that cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections, which improves brain function and subsequently boosts mental health. 
  • Commitment: committing to a regular exercise regimen can help an individual establish a positive relationship with following through on a goal, which can in turn increase one’s self-confidence. 
  • Self-esteem: after an extended period of habitual substance abuse, perception of self can distort, and self-esteem can diminish. Spending time on mindfully taking care of one’s body can help to increase one’s self-esteem. 
  • Physical benefits: engaging in routine exercise can help an individual feel better physically and enhance sleep, strengthen muscles, reduce fatigue, improve circulation, increase endurance, and more. 

The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (anything that makes the heart beat faster) each week and at least 2 days per week of muscle-strengthening activity. Integrating regular exercise into one’s daily routine can help an individual in recovery occupy otherwise dormant time with a healthy and productive pastime, which can in turn enhance one’s quality of life. 

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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