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Sedentary behavior in residential treatment is counter-productive

Sedentary behavior in residential treatment is counter-productive

If a person maintains a sedentary lifestyle, it’s likely that they are putting their health at risk, increasing the likelihood for developing chronic health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and depression. Exercise can have an impact on the body and the mind, including improvements in mental clarity, psychological well-being and mood. Everyone can benefit from incorporating physical activity into their daily routine. For people who have alcohol and drug use disorders, exercise can provide substantial benefits which improve treatment outcomes and contribute to recovery.

Despite the proven benefits of exercise on overall health and well-being, particularly for individuals with alcohol and drug use problems, as well as those in treatment, patients often have low levels of physical activity.

The link between sedentary behavior and substance use

Lack of exercise or having a sedentary lifestyle is not only associated with poor physical health.  It may also be counter-productive for individuals in residential substance abuse treatment programs. For example, people who are persistently inactive have been found to have higher weekly alcohol intoxication and problems due to alcohol consumption as well as a greater risk for drug use, according to a twin study conducted by Tellervo Korhononen, Ph.D. a senior scientist at the National Institute for Health and Welfare and his colleagues. They also found that the likelihood of illicit drug use was increased by maintaining a sedentary lifestyle.

Do people in substance abuse treatment programs get enough exercise?

Due to the significance of exercise on physical and mental health, studies have examined the importance of physical activity for patients in residential substance abuse treatment programs. The rates of physical activity and sedentary behavior were assessed in 54 Australian residents of The Salvation Army Recovery Service Centers in Canberra and on the Gold Coast. According to Carol A. Keane, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wollongong in Australia and her colleagues, people who attended substance abuse treatment programs lacked adequate levels of moderate physical activity. The researchers found that the residents of substance abuse treatment programs often spent the majority of their days with minimal physical activity.

Benefits of exercise for individuals with substance use disorders

Due to the benefits of exercise on physical and mental health and well-being, physical activities can be incorporated into treatment programs to improve the overall treatment outcomes and promote long-term recovery for individuals with substance use disorders. In a 2014 meta-analysis, researchers found that physical exercise has multiple benefits. Specifically, studies indicate that people who have substance use disorders can benefit from exercise in the following ways:

  • Higher abstinence rates
  • Lower levels of anxiety
  • Relief from depressive symptoms
  • Eases withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings

The findings of this study indicated that people with alcohol and drug use disorders can benefit substantially from incorporating exercise into their daily routines to help them stay sober and feel better during treatment. Substance abuse treatment programs that incorporate physical activity into residents’ daily routines are likely to help these individuals achieve success during and after treatment.

Sovereign Health recognizes the benefits of exercise on the lives and overall well-being of our patients. Our patients are offered a holistic array of behavioral health treatment services, including tools to help them overcome substance use disorders. To find out more about Sovereign Health’s behavioral health treatment programs for substance use disorders, mental illness and co-occurring disorders, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, testing and assessment, diagnosis and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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