Skip to main content

There is no question that physical activity provides a number of benefits for one’s mental and physical health. For those in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), the benefits of physical activity become even more prominent. Adding physical activity to one’s recovery routine will provide greater success with sobriety, in addition to long-lasting well-being and improved mood.

The Benefits of Physical Activity

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Being physically active is one of the most important actions that people of all ages can take to improve their health.” The HHS lists several benefits of physical activity, including, but not limited to:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved cognition
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Slowed or reduced weight gain
  • Improved sleep
  • Lowered risk of developing a large number of chronic diseases 
  • Improved overall functioning

Many believe that in order to reap the benefits of physical activity, one must engage in several intense workouts throughout the week. However, this is not true. Engaging in moderate exercise consistently throughout the week can have profound benefits for one’s mental and physical health. Even in small amounts, physical activity is vital for one’s well-being. 

Physical Activity and Addiction Recovery

Inevitably, physical activity can be a game changer for those who are seeking recovery from substance use. According to a 2014 journal in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, “Physical activity, and specifically exercise, is a potential non-pharmacological treatment for addiction.” This is because physical activity activates the same reward pathways that are activated by substance use. In other words, both substance use and exercise influence dopamine production. As a result, exercise has been found to help people who struggle with addiction in all phases, from the very early stages well into long-term recovery.

Physical Activity for Relapse and Addiction Triggers

When individuals work to abstain from addictive behaviors such as substance use, they need to work to replace the behavior with a healthier one. For many, their replacement behavior becomes exercise. This is also why many addiction treatment centers incorporate some kind of physical activity into their programs or suggest physical activity as a way to ease cravings and prevent relapse.

Additionally, physical activity can be a positive coping mechanism for navigating substance use triggers in recovery. When an individual experiences a trigger, they can turn to exercise to release their emotional charge. Walking, running, or joining an exercise class can give individuals a positive outlet to process triggers and stress.

Types of Physical Activity

There are endless options for physical activity. For physical activity to be effective for individuals in recovery, it is important to engage in activities that are both challenging and exciting. Some examples may include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Practicing yoga
  • Snowboarding
  • Playing sports, such as basketball or tennis
  • Gardening outside
  • Weight lifting
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups

Physical Activity in Outpatient Treatment

The benefits of physical activity are well-established for those in recovery. This is why many treatment programs incorporate exercise into their treatment regimen. 

Physical Activity and Co-occurring Disorders

Many people struggling with SUD also have a co-occurring mental health condition. Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnoses, must be treated simultaneously for effective recovery to take place. 

Many outpatient programs will suggest physical activity as a complementary treatment approach not only for addiction but also for mental health disorders. According to the Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, exercise improves mental health by “reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”

Sober Living

Sober living is an excellent option for individuals who do not have a stable living environment while they’re in treatment. Individuals who participate in a sober living program will live with other residents who are also working to establish their long-term sobriety. Individuals will have direct access to social support from peers and treatment professionals while they live at the home. 

Most addiction treatment centers will organize certain activities in their sober living homes, including physical activity, exercise, and other recreational opportunities. If individuals feel they need an accountability partner for their exercise routine, they can plan a schedule with other peers in their program to regularly engage in exercise throughout the week.

Incorporating Physical Activity Into Individualized Care

One of the most important components of effective addiction treatment is individualized care. Each and every person has vastly different experiences with substance use and recovery, which is why no two recovery journeys should look the same.

Individualized care is even more important when it comes to how individuals can incorporate physical activity into their recovery. While there are a variety of ways that individuals can get exercise, some methods are not suited for everyone. Some people may have different conditions or physical limitations that prevent them from doing certain exercises. In cases like this, individuals can ask clinical staff for different suggestions to ensure that they still incorporate exercise into their addiction treatment plan.

Physical activity offers a plethora of benefits for both physical and mental health. For those struggling with substance use disorder, physical activity can greatly improve your quality of life and help you through recovery. At Lighthouse Recovery Texas, our outpatient addiction treatment programs are designed for each unique individual. We will help you find the right type of exercise that you enjoy and lend support and accountability for your exercise routine. Many people who struggle with addiction also have a co-occurring mental condition. At Lighthouse, our staff is highly trained to help treat your co-occurring disorder and help set you up for a life of long-term sobriety. Call us today at (214) 396-0259.