Can Physical Fitness Help Recovering Addicts

By Justin Bennett

We know that physical fitness has plenty of benefits for our health and emotional well-being. But can it be an effective part of a substance abuse treatment program? The experts think so. Letís learn more about how exercise can benefit people in recovery.

How Fitness Helps Recovering Addicts

While there isnít much research on fitness and recovery, Dr. Richard Brown, a psychologist at Brown University, created a study with 48 recovering subjects on an exercise program and followed them for 12 weeks. The results? Guardian Liberty Voice reports, "Some said that the workout regimen Ďgave structure to their livesí that they didnít have before, according to Brown." Dr. Brown believes we need more research but found positive results, including participants continuing with fitness programs.

Fitness can also help former drug abusers. Early in recovery, many people still crave the feeling of euphoria that was produced by the drugs. Similarly, during exercise the body produces endorphins, which trigger a sense of euphoria known as "runnerís high." While not as strong as the high people get from a narcotic, it is much safer and not addictive.

Read six more ways exercise can help with addiction recovery.

Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise

Fitness may be helpful to those in recovery because of its many mental health benefits. According to, these include:

Reducing stress and anxiety. That can be incredibly important for those who are trying to maintain their sobriety.

Improves self-confidence. Between weight loss, strength building, and achievement, a regular and challenging fitness routine gives you a sense of self-worth.

Boosts your brain. Exercise creates BDNF, a protein in the brain that may help with decision-making, higher thinking, and learning. That is excellent support for people in recovery.

What Type Of Exercise Is Best?

Talk to your doctor and treatment partners first to select a fitness routine that fits your health, body, and personality. Here are some suggestions:

Cross-Fit and Weight Lifting
These more intense exercises helped Krissy Mae Cagney recover and start her business, Black Iron Gym. She went from alcohol-induced seizures to powerlifting and sobriety. Read her compelling story.


Author Mishka Shubaly has written a memoir on how he went from "irreverent young drunk" to ultra-runner. Read CNNís article on Shubaly and how science supports the benefits of exercise on recovery.

Low Impact Exercises

You can also benefit from a low impact exercise, such as yoga, which will teach you meditation and deep breathing. Hiking is another option. Itís easy to get started, cost-free, and exposes you to nature - and thatís also good for your mental health. Psychology Today has tips on how to ease into exercise with activities around the home.

Find an exercise that you enjoy and that challenges you, so youíll be motivated to stay active and reap all the benefits.

Developing Healthy Habits

To support your physical fitness goals, you should also develop some healthy habits. These should be habits you can start to develop with little or no fuss. Here are some ideas:

Break up with sugar.
Sugar is detrimental to your waistline, even if you exercise. It has little redeeming qualities and can lead to diabetes. Start replacing sugary foods with better choices, like fresh fruit as a snack or a lower glycemic sweetener for coffee and tea.

Get some sleep.
If you start working out regularly, sleep should start to improve. Itís recommended you get at least 7 hours a night.

Every day is a new day.
Whether itís exercise, mental health, or recovery, we all need a second chance Ė and sometimes even more. Remind yourself in the morning that every day provides a new opportunity. Take and it and donít look back.

Want more tips on healthy habits to include on the daily? Check out this guide from Plexus.

Exercise can help people in recovery improve their physical and mental health. The benefits are plentiful and youíll love how you look and feel afterward.