The Importance of Fitness in Addiction and Mental Health Recovery

The Importance of Fitness in Addiction and Mental Health Recovery
I was successfully treated for my addiction to alcohol through a fantastic rehab programme at a residential treatment centre who utilised the fantastic benefits of regular physical activity. Leading rehab facilities like this one are now including regular exercise into their treatment programmes for people who are struggling with addiction or mental health issues. They utilise effective evidence-based rehab, detox and fitness programmes which focus on healing your body as well as your mind to achieve a full recovery from addiction. Their rehab centres have helped a significant number of people benefit from regular exercise and healthy nutrition which has greatly helped them in their recovery process. You could be one of those people whose life has been turned around through the simple form of exercise, what’s stopping you?


My name is John Gillen, I’m a director of one of the UK’s leading residential rehab centres and a former alcohol addict. As with most addicts, my alcohol dependency got out of control, ruining my relationships with friends and family, damaging my career, and destroying my mental and physical well-being. I needed to make a change in order to survive, so I made the difficult decision to admit I needed help. I asked for guidance from mental health and addiction specialists, they turned my life around for the better utilising effective treatments methods including frequent fitness.


I decided to educate myself on spirituality and psychology, to give myself a better understanding of how addiction begins and how to treat it, fitness is an essential aspect of this recovery. Exercise is so often overlooked when trying to improve your mental well-being, we need to remind ourselves how beneficial it can be. Our GP’s in the UK are now recommending and including exercise in treatment plans to tackle mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Research proves that we feel much calmer and more content after exercising in comparison to periods of inactivity. I learnt to appreciate from my own experience that addiction and mental health are extremely complex situations, each individual is going through a completely unique experience. It’s important to remember that regular fitness is an essential part of recovery, you just need to speak with members of your local gym to realise how it’s benefiting them in so many ways.


It’s important to find a form of physical exercise which best suits you, whatever that may be. If you’re new to exercise, it’s completely fine to begin with some slow stretching or light walking throughout the day. You may want to then include a few 10-minute bursts of jogging or take a longer walk when you can. If you can find someone to exercise with, your motivation will increase as you work together to achieve your goals. If you wanted to take advice from a professional coach, you could also join a gym and follow a tailored workout programme. Any of the above will give you a great start in achieving long-term recovery from addiction and mental health issues. I promise you’ll notice a positive difference through regular exercise.


Alcohol or drug addiction is a common side effect of mental health issues, focusing on the next ‘fix’ can be overwhelming. Exercising provides a great distraction for those who are struggling, as well as significantly reducing the likelihood of slipping back into undesirable habits. I’m now seeing more rehab programmes which include exercise as an integral part of their treatment regime exhibiting great results. Participating in regular fitness has been proven to help prevent the development of mental health problems, as well as improving your overall length and quality of life. The simple act of exercise certainly has a positive impact on our minds, as well as our bodies. When we participate in some form of fitness, it’s proven to provide great benefits to our mental health. For the more than 10 years scientists have discussed that exercise boosts brain function regardless of age or fitness level – there’s no negatives!


Regular exercise brought me fantastic stress relief which in turn has helped to ease my addiction symptoms. In addition to this, frequent fitness:


  • You’ll enjoy a better night’s sleep, feeling refreshed rather than grouchy
  • Improves your life expectancy
  • Aids weight loss which of course improves your self-esteem and confidence
  • Gives you more energy as your body gets stronger
  • Enhances productivity giving you a better quality of life
  • Even after low to moderate exercise such as walking or stretching, your mind will feel much clearer, allowing you to redirect your thinking patterns away from any mental health issues
  • These same endorphins improve your concentration and memory, all of which greatly contribute towards your journey to lifelong recovery


During and after physical activity, you’re expending your natural energies which have built up, as well as strengthening your muscles. All of this stimulates your central nervous system, releasing endorphins which then make you less aware of pain, significantly improving your mood. Serotonin is then released into your bloodstream which gives you that happy and content feeling. The release of melatonin and cortisol during frequent physical activity will balance your hormones which are responsible for increasing or supressing your appetite, meaning the likelihood of developing an eating disorder decreases as you’ll be able to better regulate your food intake. Exercise really is an all-round fantastic tool to utilise when it comes to mental health. There’s no better time than now to lead a happier, healthier life. Start your journey today to feel more like you again.


If like I was, you’re seeking support with addiction or mental health issues, then exercise therapy is a fantastic tool to utilise. Start your fitness journey today, you won’t regret it.


John Gillen is a Visiting Professor at Belgrade University, the inspiration behind the bestselling book ‘The Secret Disease of Addiction’ and is director of leading addiction treatment centres throughout the country, part of The Rehab Clinics Group in which he continues to pass on his knowledge and new findings.



If you need any help with addiction, please check out


Freephone: 0800 470 0382 / Text HELP To 83222




Share this post...