It’s everyone’s favorite New Year’s resolution: get more exercise. Although many people exercise to lose weight and look better, regular physical activity is extremely beneficial in addiction recovery. Exercising might not be the most enjoyable thing to do, but it can be a key component of lasting sobriety due to its positive effects on physical and mental well-being.

1. It gives you something to do.
Carving out time in your schedule for regular exercise forces you to be present and focus on what you’re doing. Although going for a run or lifting weights may not be the most fun things to do, when you consider how you’ll feel afterward–more energetic, less stressed, clear-minded–it’s worth it. No one ever regretted exercise.

2. It alters brain chemistry.
Exercise causes the body to release endorphins, hormones that induce feelings of euphoria and create a natural high–the same hormones your body released when you abused substances. However, those substances interfered with your ability to feel happiness, pleasure and satisfaction. Physical activity can help stabilize your endorphin levels and reteach the body how to regulate brain chemistry and mood naturally.

3. It improves sleep.
Addiction wreaks havoc on the body, and that includes the body’s sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. Without your drug of choice, it may be difficult to fall or stay asleep. Exercise helps regulate your sleep cycle so you’ll get better sleep, which benefits every aspect of your body’s ability to function.

4. It heals body and mind.
Of course, physical activity is great for the body and lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes, but it also benefits mental health. Concentrating on exercise allows you to experience the same psychological benefits of meditation.(1) In addition to making you feel rejuvenated, optimistic and level-headed, it also increases the number of nerve connections in the brain, which helps it recover from the effects of substance use.

5. It offers an outlet.
Physical activity can become your go-to method for reducing physical and emotional stress and restoring clarity. Those in recovery often struggle to manage feelings of anger, frustration or stress, which can lead to relapse if not handled properly. Because of addiction, you might not know how to express your emotions in a healthy way. Exercise provides an outlet for these emotions, reducing your risk of relapse. It also reduces the physical tension that builds in the body throughout the day, whether it’s from having bad posture or a stressful interaction with your boss.

6. It improves self-confidence.
Practice makes perfect. You don’t need to start training for a triathlon. Start small by going for short walks around your neighborhood or attending gentle yoga or tai chi classes. Gradually increase the duration and frequency of your exercise from 30 minutes to an hour, or from two days a week to four. Watching your body transform and seeing what you’re capable of will help you feel more confident in other areas of your life and overcome the challenges you’ll face in recovery.

Guardian IOP is an outpatient solution for those unable to enter residential rehab. Our holistic treatment program focuses on healing the whole person through alternative methods, including yoga and equine therapy, as well as more traditional therapeutic modalities. Speak with a Guardian IOP addiction specialist by calling 855-517-1871 or verify your insurance benefits online.


Reviewed for accuracy by:

Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.