3 Top Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.”

Carol Welch, emotional therapist

The world has provided a pretty endless supply of substances and activities that you can become addicted to – natural drugs, like marijuana, man-made drugs, such as cocaine and prescription painkillers, alcohol, sex, gambling, eating – the list goes on. Anything that triggers that flood of dopamine into your willing brain. Even the innocent little mobile you hold in your hand has become a gateway into addictive behaviour.

I’m a child of the 80s, so I just settled for what was around back then, which, in my case, was the contents of both my parents’ medicine and drinks cabinets to start with. As my mother said, “Our house is built on trust.” Yes, indeed. Go figure, Mom.

Even as a young (apprentice) addict, sports was a mainstay of my life – baseball, basketball, track, and college wrestling. I was on so many teams that my Mom had to keep a separate diary to schedule what I was doing, when I was doing it, and just exactly where. As the Brits say, I was “as fit as the butcher’s dog…”

As soon as I left college, my life education became about one thing, and one thing only.

Earn money, then drink and do drugs.


If sports was my practice addiction, mixing and abusing cocaine, whisky and pills was the real thing. And, just like sports, I was pretty good at it – if they awarded medals for using chemicals to get completely out of your mind and as high as the proverbial kite, I’d be on the rostrum every time.

It took 6 years of addiction for me to finally end up teetering on the edge of insanity, to get real and to then get help, and to then get clean and sober – successfully. 6 years where sports became the very last thing I wanted to engage in.

However, once clean and sober, thanks mainly to a drug rehab in Seattle, for which I’m forever grateful, sports (well, exercise, basically) became one of the best therapies I could hope for. And that’s what this story-cum-article is all about – the benefits of exercise during addiction recovery. 3 of them, anyway (because there are plenty). However, I have chosen what I consider to be the “top” ones.

By the way, I’ve been clean and sober for over 11 years now.

So, here it is – your “3 Top Benefits of Exercise during Addiction Recovery.”

A Natural Rush

You may have a pretty fair idea of what life in a rehab amounts to. Yes, there’s hospital beds for your medically-assisted detox (with various tubes and IVs if you need them). Clinical and medical staff too. There’s therapy, either one-to-one with a counselor and sessions held within groups, either all men, all women, or mixed. And, yes, there’s pretty good food, and somewhere to exercise with all the other weakened addicts who have embarked on their own individual and highly personal recovery – its actual chance of success then unknown.

Obviously, devoid of substance abuse, the only way you’re going to get any kind of buzz in rehab is the one you naturally produce. Remember? Anything that triggers that flood of dopamine into your willing brain.

Exercise gives you this. Not because you’re trying to return to your bad ways of the past, and those rapidly decreasing buzzes your addiction provided. It’s simply because it will lift your mood to have those natural, happy chemicals being released into your “addiction recovery brain,” something it desperately needs to put you in a good place mentally and emotionally for the journey that lies ahead.

Your physical and mental health are forever entwined, one supporting the other.

Your Routine and the “60%”

Interesting fact for you now. Did you know that at least 60% of what you did yesterday (whatever that entailed), you will do again today? Furthermore, at least 60% of what you do today, you will end up repeating tomorrow? We are, indeed, creatures of habit, whether we like it or not, and whether we want to be or not.

This prevalence of routine is intrinsic to who we are. Therefore, by establishing good habits and good routines, such as exercise, we are giving ourselves a clear advantage over what ails us or negatively affects us.

Just the simple act of keeping to a regular exercise routine helps us to think more positively, to be able to handle any cravings for what we were once physically and mentally addicted to, and to physically give ourselves the best chance of a lasting recovery.

Healthy Social Interactions

Once upon a time, my only friends were people you’d cross the street to avoid. Seriously, they looked as bad as what they actually were. And a lot of them were very, very “grandma-selling” bad. Maybe, even me. However, when you’re an active addict, regardless of your substance of choice, the bar you set for who you are prepared to social interact with tends to drop alarmingly.

Once you’re clean and sober, those social interactions are something you never want to go back to. The answer? New and far healthier social interactions, and, surprise, surprise, exercise can provide these too, especially if you get involved in team sports, or those where you’re going to encounter new people anyway.

Joining classes or joining teams is a top way to find healthy social interactions (yes, we may be creatures of habit, but we’re very social and interactive creatures too). Find yoga classes, hiking and walking groups, cycling clubs, or where any kind of team games are played, like basketball, baseball or soccer.

My social interactions and the new friendships I have made have been a constant cornerstone of my continued recovery from addiction. They, quite clearly, can be yours too. All for a healthier body, mind and soul. And exercise was a great way to begin.

Exercise: The Medicine for Creating Change

It would be really easy for me to continue writing about all the wonderful benefits that exercise brings to those in addiction recovery. Maybe, however, my view is somewhat leaning towards the fact that I absolutely loved sports before my substance addictions took a hold of me instead. That said, I have witnessed all of these benefits firsthand, and enjoyed every moment in the process.

The 3 top benefits described for you here – a natural rush, routine and the “60%,” and healthy interactions – will improve the experience of addiction recovery, and, believe me, that needs some improving – mostly, at the beginning. However, once you get used to your new life and a new way of living it, exercise can like a good friend itself – always ready to make those bad moments a whole lot better.

Are you in addiction recovery and using exercise as way to strengthen not only your body, but your mind too? What do you consider as the best benefits of regular exercise? Please feel free to share your thoughts with a comment below. Lastly, be healthy and stay healthy.