How Exercises Like Jogging or Weight Training May Help Addiction Recovery

Getting sober is a multifaceted journey that often requires a blend of medical, psychological and lifestyle interventions to ensure long-term success. While traditional therapeutic modalities have their place, there's growing evidence that points to the positive impact of exercise on addiction recovery. With numerous studies underlining the benefits of exercise on your physical and mental health, it turns out that a pair of running shoes or a set of weights could be your secret weapon to achieving and maintaining a healthier, sober lifestyle. 

Connection Between Addiction & Mental Health

The positive effects of exercise on mental health have been well studied. The Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Psychological Association (APA) and other trusted resources have all found that exercise helps to regulate stress hormones and encourage the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine. When combined with other treatments, this can ease the symptoms of several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and — you guessed it — substance use disorders.

Substance use disorders are a treatable mental health concern that affects a person’s thinking and behavior. Addiction can change how the brain works, making it difficult for individuals to control their drug or alcohol use despite harmful consequences. In many cases, substance use is triggered by other mental health conditions as people seek ways to find relief from their symptoms. In others, substance use worsens already existing mental health symptoms.

Mental health and addiction use are so closely connected that researchers estimate nearly half of people with a serious mental health condition have a co-occurring substance use disorder, and vice versa. By improving mood and thinking, exercise helps act as a natural antidote to the mental health challenges that often accompany addiction, promoting healthier habits and breaking the cycle of self-medication to promote long-term recovery.

The Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Treatment

Exercise helps treat addiction by supporting the overall recovery process. When individuals are physically active, they enjoy benefits like better mood regulation and healthier responses to stress, which promote a more positive mental state. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality, increase energy levels and enhance cognitive function, helping the brain heal from the effects of drug or alcohol use. These benefits in physical and mental well-being are crucial for building the resilience needed to overcome addiction.

Moreover, exercise provides a suitable outlet for stress and negative emotions, which are often triggers for substance use. Through physical activity, individuals can develop healthier habits and coping mechanisms that replace the reliance on drugs or alcohol as a means of escape. As these new habits click into place and become second nature, cravings are also reduced. Studies show that people who incorporate exercise into their recovery are less likely to relapse and have better long-term treatment outcomes than those who do not.  

Exercise & Dopamine 

Exercise also has a significant impact on dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is closely tied to reward and motivation and plays a key role in regulating essential functions like eating, sleeping and reproduction. Substance use floods the brain with dopamine and hijacks the brain’s reward system, causing an exaggerated, pleasurable response that we learn to associate with drugs or alcohol. Over time, this rewires the brain and leads to powerful cravings, heightening the risk of addiction.

Exercise helps to recalibrate the dopamine system by providing a natural, healthy source of pleasure and reward. This boost in dopamine can be especially beneficial in early recovery when individuals are often grappling with intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms. By increasing dopamine production with physical activity, we can begin to restore balance in the brain to promote long-term sobriety. Studies show that individuals who exercise during and after treatment find it easier to avoid relapse and maintain a substance-free lifestyle. 

Incorporating Exercise Into Your Treatment Program

Incorporating exercise into your daily routine can significantly increase your success in recovery. Here are some recommended activities to consider:

  • Jogging/Walking: These are simple yet effective ways to experience the benefits of exercise. They can be tailored to your fitness level and enjoyed both indoors and outdoors, promoting improved mental, physical and emotional health.
  • Biking: An excellent, low-impact alternative to jogging, biking provides a great cardiovascular workout. It also allows you to explore new areas and connect with nature, which can be therapeutic in itself.
  • Weight Training: This form of exercise helps to build muscle, boost metabolism and improve your overall physical health. It also empowers individuals by building mental and emotional strength and providing a sense of accomplishment.
  • Hiking: Hiking combines physical activity with the healing effects of nature. Being in nature has been proven to alleviate stress and improve mental wellness, contributing to a holistic approach to addiction recovery.
  • Team Sports: Participating in team sports fosters a sense of community and support, which is invaluable in recovery. It also adds an element of fun and competition to your exercise routine, making it an enjoyable way to stay active.

You can incorporate these activities into your recovery on your own, but enrolling in a treatment program that uses exercise as a therapeutic tool alongside other evidence-based modalities can further enhance the positive outcomes you experience. Many rehab centers, including NorthStar Transitions, recognize the importance of exercise in recovery and include outdoor activities, experiential therapies and more as part of their treatment programs. 

Get Help Today

When working toward sobriety, it’s essential to equip yourself with the proper tools to ensure your long-term success. Exercise provides a multitude of benefits and is a fun, effective way to improve your physical and mental health no matter what stage of recovery you’re in. NorthStar Transitions harnesses the power of physical activity and exercise to help our clients achieve and maintain a healthier lifestyle free from drugs or alcohol. To learn more about our treatment programs and how they can help, don’t hesitate to contact us today. You can get in touch by calling 866-407-2240 or completing our online contact form.

Search Blog Posts
Back to blog
Call 866-407-2240
Verify Insurance