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4 Ways a Fitness Routine Can Help You Beat Addiction

Taking better care of your body is an essential part of recovery.

Key points

  • Taking care of your physical health can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • No matter your current experience level, you can create a routine that fits your daily habits and recovery needs.
  • Exercise reduces cravings, adds structure, improves mental health, and provides community.
Photo by dusan jovic on Unsplash
Source: Photo by dusan jovic on Unsplash

There’s a reason many rehab centers take a whole-person approach to addiction recovery: Your physical, mental, and emotional health all play a key role in beating addiction. If you address the mental and emotional side of recovery but ignore your physical health, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

This raises an important question: Can a fitness routine help you beat addiction?

I sat down with Shiela Camp from Addiction Resource, an online informational content guide serving individuals and their families who struggle with addiction, substance use disorders, and mental health disorders. Here's what she had to say:

Fitness and nutrition affect your mental health in many different ways. Taking care of your physical health can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, relieve stress, improve your sleep, and much more.

Poor exercise habits can be one of the early signs of mental health disorders, including addiction. But if exercise doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry. Anyone can get active, even at very moderate levels.

How fitness helps when overcoming addiction

No matter your current experience level with exercise, you can create a fitness routine that fits your daily habits and recovery needs. Here are a few ways a routine can help you to beat addiction:

1. Exercise reduces cravings. A report from Harvard Medical School suggests that one of the most effective ways that a fitness routine can help people overcome addiction is by being a distraction from cravings. If you’ve struggled with substances before, you know that cravings can be overpowering. They take over a person’s thoughts until that desire is fulfilled. But exercise has been proven to reduce these cravings and lead to long-term abstinence.

2. Fitness routines add structure. When you’re trying to beat an addiction, you need structure and healthy outlets. Incorporating new routines can be very effective in the fight. Factors like boredom, depression, lack of purpose, and too much free time can all contribute to drug or alcohol use.

With a fitness routine, you’ve got something to look forward to each day. Instead of having unfettered free time, you’ll know exactly what you’re doing every day, giving your brain a chance to create new hard-wired patterns.

3. Your mental health will improve. Exercise also reduces symptoms caused by mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. For many, addiction is a battle with substances and their minds. Mental illness is quite often a major contributor to addiction issues, as each disorder negatively impacts the other.

Exercise can improve mental health by:

  • Boosting your mood
  • Improving self-efficacy and confidence
  • Treating symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Enhancing self-awareness

In one study, people who exercised were shown to have 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health monthly (a 43.2% reduction). And for people who had previously been diagnosed with depression, the reduction was even greater. When you take care of your body, your mind benefits as well.

4. Exercise provides community. No one can overcome addiction alone. It often takes a community of friends, family members, and other recovering peers. And for many people, exercise can be a great time for community building.

Especially if you’re working out with other people recovering from addiction, you can create healthy bonds over a shared experience together. You can do this by participating in group exercise classes and groups, like:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Rock climbing
  • Zumba
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Hiking

Creating your fitness routine

If you want to beat addiction, start taking care of your body with proper nutrition and exercise. Start slowly by going on walks, short hikes, or swimming in your community pool. If you’re more experienced, try creating a set schedule for yourself and stick to it, increasing the intensity and frequency of exercise over time. As you improve your physical health, you’ll be strengthened to beat your addiction.

Are you or someone you love struggling with addiction? These posts could help: