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By Constance Ray

Each day millions of Americans suffer with some form of substance dependency. This could be alcohol, nicotine, prescription medications, or illegal drugs. For many addiction is part of a downward spiral that never seems to end. But it does not have to be a life sentence and through counseling, treatment, and self-care, addiction is something that can be beaten.

A mounting body of evidence suggests that a simple exercise routine is an effective weapon against addiction. When the body is in motion it releases the same reward chemicals as drugs and alcohol. Many addicts can learn to overcome their unhealthy addiction by substituting with positive behaviors, such as exercise, that contribute to a healthy mind and body.

Relapse, the interruption of sobriety, is often spurred by stressors. For an addict this might be anxiety over finances, tension, exposure to certain individuals, or boredom. Avoiding stressors and relapse triggers is best. Many stressors can be circumvented using exercise.

The Fix, an online website dedicated to helping people live soberly, explains that addictions are often swapped for other unhealthy habits. A person might stop smoking and turn to food to fill the void. A person with a shopping addiction may begin to over-focus on work to avoid temptation. Unlike overeating, exercise is a positive substitution that serves as a distraction while strengthening the body and mind.




There is really no wrong exercise assuming that it isn’t causing physical damage to the body. But there are, at least according to Harvard University, a few simple exercises that can help a person lower the risk of disease and stay in shape. These include:

  • Swimming. Swimming is a cardiovascular workout that involves the whole body. It provides a sense of weightlessness that may encourage a recovering addict to exercise more; addiction takes a significant toll on the body and it may be difficult to participate in strenuous exercise regimens. Perhaps most importantly, swimming has also been proven to put participants in a more positive mental state and better mood. This alone may help stave off addiction cravings.
  • Tai chi. Tai chi has been accurately dubbed “meditation in motion.” It is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts that combines mindful movements with breathing exercises and awareness to surroundings. This mood changing exercise is good for people of all ages and can help improve balance in the elderly.
  • Walking. Intentional walking – not just that necessary to function each day — is about as easy as it gets. Walking lowers blood pressure, enhances mood, and helps reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases. Most experts recommend walking at a moderate pace 30 to 60 minutes three to four days per week.

While exercise alone is likely not enough to help a person overcome addiction, it is an important tool that can stave off cravings and take the place of those events and activities that might otherwise encourage relapse.


In addition to exercise, recovering addicts should focus on positive social interactions and other ways to boost their physical and mental health. This includes getting enough sleep and avoiding foods that leave the body feeling weak, tired, and hungry. Exercise regimens must be enjoyable and attainable. A small home gym or walk with the family each evening are easy ways to fit physical fitness into a sustainable addiction recovery plan.

Drug and alcohol addiction takes its toll physically, mentally, and spiritually. And even though at times all hope seems lost, it is possible to recover. Exercise, therapy, and self-care are the first building blocks of the foundation for a long and healthy sober life.

Constance Ray

Constance co-created RecoveryWell to offer a safe place where people can share their stories about addiction and substance abuse, so that others can learn from them and benefit in their own lives.


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