Using Exercise to Aid Alcohol and Drug Recovery

Multiple Benefits to Getting Active

Tired Runner
Getting Motivated Is the Key. © Getty Images

Many professional alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation programs include exercise as part of an overall program to help patients maintain abstinence and develop a more healthy lifestyle. Many residential treatment centers feature fully-equipped exercise facilities on the premises.

Traditionally, the main reason exercise has been recommended for those trying to quit alcohol and drugs is because it keeps them focused on something other than their withdrawal symptoms or cravings. Now, however, there may be evidence that exercise has additional benefits to those who want to avoid drinking and using drugs.

Research Shows Exercise Can Help

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has set aside $4 million for scientific research to explore a possible role for physical activity in substance abuse and relapse prevention.

When announcing the funding, NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow cited two studies that have shown exercise to be a benefit. In one, adolescents who exercised daily were half as likely to smoke cigarettes as their sedentary counterparts, and 40% less likely to experiment with marijuana.

In another study, women who were in a smoking-cessation program doubled their chances of quitting by adding exercise to their routines three days a week, compared to women in the study who did not exercise. They also had less weight gain.

Everyone Can Benefit

If exercise can help people in residential treatment facilities and subjects in scientific studies, it can benefit anyone trying to quit drinking and drugging or striving to maintain abstinence.

Exercise is something to which everyone has access. You don't have to become a world-class athlete to enjoy the benefits of exercise as part of your recovery. You don't have to join a professional gymnasium, hire a personal trainer or buy expensive equipment, although those options can be beneficial also. Exercise is something that you can do on your own.

Before You Start

Not everyone is healthy enough to jump right into a full-blown exercise regime.

If you have not exercised lately and you have been sedentary for more than a year, see your doctor and get a check-up before you begin any exercise program.

If you have any medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, you definitely need to check with your healthcare provider before beginning exercise. Also, if you are pregnant, have chronic back or neck pain or are recovering from an injury, check with your doctor first.

Getting Motivated

Sometimes, the hardest part of exercising is getting started. Long-time Exercise Expert Paige Waehner has some good tips on how to get motivated to exercise. She also points out how you can benefit from low-impact exercise, especially if you are a beginner.

Walking for Your Health

Walking is a form of exercise that almost anyone can do and it can have significant benefits -- not only for cardiovascular health but also for weight loss. Walking Expert Wendy Bumgardner has tips for those new to walking for exercise and warns about mistakes you should avoid.

Jogging and Running

If walking is not enough exercise to keep up your interest, running or jogging is another option that you can do without a lot of expensive equipment or memberships. Running and Jogging Guide Christine Luff has an eight-week plan to help you get started and some tips on avoiding pain and injuries.

Inexpensive Exercise Options

You can also participate in other forms of inexpensive but effective exercise. The following sites can provide you with the information you need to get started with these beneficial physical activities.

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  • National Institute of Drug Abuse. "NIDA Explores Exercise as Drug Abuse Prevention Tool." June 2008.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.