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Fitness, Addiction and Mental Health Recovery

Article by John Gillen

It’s a great privilege to introduce this guest article by John Gillen. As someone who’s had addiction challenges in the past, this topic resonates with me personally. Please give it a read and share your thoughts in the comments. John writes:

A common side effect of mental health issues can be drug or alcohol addiction, focusing on the next ‘fix’ can be overwhelming. Regular exercise provides a great distraction for those who are struggling, as well as significantly reducing the likelihood of slipping back into old ways.

Thankfully, I’m now seeing more rehab programmes that include exercise as an integral part of their treatment regime, all of which are exhibiting great results.

Wake Up & Workout

Participating in regular fitness has been proven to help prevent the development of mental health problems in the first place, as well as improve your overall length and quality of life. For more than 10 years scientists have discussed that exercise boosts brain function regardless of age or fitness level. 

The simple act of exercise definitely 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.

Initially, it’s important to find a form of physical exercise that best suits you, whatever that may be. Perhaps you could start with some gentle stretching or light walking throughout the day.


You may want to then add a few 10-minute bursts of jogging or take a long walk whenever possible. Finding someone to exercise with will increase your motivation as you both work together to achieve your similar fitness goals.

If you wanted to take advice from a professional coach, you could also join a gym and follow a tailored workout programme to see faster, greater results.

Any of these will give you a great start in achieving long-term recovery from addiction and mental health issues. It’s proven you’ll notice a positive difference through regular exercise fairly quickly.

A few years back, I was successfully treated for my addiction to alcohol through a fantastic rehab programme at a residential treatment centre. They took advantage of the fantastic benefits of exercise. Providing a wide variety of treatment techniques such as detox, group, and holistic therapies, they also encourage everyone to undergo a regular fitness regime.

Rehab centres like these have helped many people benefit from regular exercise in addition to healthy nutrition which has greatly helped them in their journey to recovery.

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, destroying my mental and physical health, and damaging my career.

I made the difficult decision to admit I needed help; a change was imperative. I asked for guidance from mental health and addiction specialists. They helped me to turn my life around and become a happier, healthier person, exercise was a big part of that.

I decided to educate myself on psychology, in order to give myself a better understanding of how addiction starts, what triggers it and how to treat it – fitness is an essential aspect of this recovery.

All of this was the inspiration behind the successful book The Secret Disease Of Addiction by Jane Allen.

The Secret Disease of Addiction

Exercise is so often overlooked when trying to improve your mental well-being, we need to keep reminding 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, this is fantastic news if you ask me.

In comparison to periods of inactivity, research proves that we feel much calmer and more content after exercising. I can now appreciate from my own experience that addiction and mental health are extremely complex battles, with each experience unique to the next. It’s vital to remember that regular fitness is an essential part of recovery.

What happens 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
  • Your mood significantly improves as 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.

Regular exercise brought me fantastic stress relief which in turn has helped to ease my addiction symptoms. Frequent fitness not only improves your life expectancy, it aids weight loss which of course improves your self-esteem and confidence.

Not only will you feel more energetic as your body gets stronger, you’ll experience enhanced productivity and a better quality of life when you’re free from alcohol or drug addiction. 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 recovery journey.

Exercise should be continually promoted as an extremely valuable tool in aiding long-term recovery. Just speak with anyone who has suffered from mental health issues or addiction and has embarked on a fitness journey, it’s highly likely they’ll tell you how much exercise has helped to turn their life around.

Now is the time to change your life for the better, start exercising today.

About the author

John Gillen is a Visiting Professor at Belgrade University, the inspiration behind the bestselling book ‘The Secret Disease of Addiction’ and director of Ocean Recovery Centre (part of the Rehab Clinics Group).