Addiction Treatment Advice

Understanding How Exercise & Nutrition Can Impact Addiction Recovery

It’s well-known that getting adequate exercise and maintaining a healthy diet is key to a healthy life. But what many don’t know is that exercise and keeping the body healthy through nutrient-dense foods is actually a crucial ally when it comes to substance addiction treatment. Below, we’ll explain why this is, how it helps individuals recover and offer tips to begin a healthier lifestyle now.

The Benefits of Exercise During Addiction Recovery

Exercise and addiction recovery go hand-in-hand. When treating addiction, it’s important to take a whole mind-body-spirit approach to it all instead of just focusing on behavioral or mindset shifts. Regular physical activity has been shown to:

  • Improve symptoms of depression
  • Reduce stress and diminish cravings by altering the brain chemistry
  • Supporting an individual through their recovery process

Mental Health Benefits

Exercise is good for everyone’s mental health, even if they don’t have an addiction. But where exercise helps those with addiction specifically is that it delivers serotonin and dopamine hits to the brain — the same pleasure-reward pathway that gets activated when using substances. This gives recovering individuals a healthy substitute, so they can still receive those feel-good feelings. Due to this process, the effects of exercise can reduce anxiety, depression and stress. Plus, it can help with the withdrawal process, helping to prevent relapse.

Physical Health Benefits

Getting regular exercise makes your brain sharper, boosts energy levels, helps maintain a healthy weight, makes you stronger (including your bones) and significantly improves sleep at night. Those with substance use disorder often experience insomnia when abstaining from drugs and alcohol, so replacing it with exercise will help them get a deeper, more restful night’s sleep without feeling the urge to use. A small study reported that out of 38 participants who were addicted to various substances, 20 of those people finished their intervention when they exercised at least three times a week for up to 6 months.

Routine & Structure

As humans, we thrive off routine. When you take away drugs or alcohol from someone’s life, you need to give them a healthy replacement, a regular routine and a predictable schedule to help them stay on track. As a way to “replace the triggers,” regular exercise can give them something healthy to do other than using, which will decrease cravings.

The Benefits of Nutrition During Addiction Recovery

Eating well is important for everyone, but it’s even more important for those in addiction recovery. Drug and alcohol use can deplete key essential vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to stay on a healthy diet to heal any damage that’s been done.

Repairs Physical Damage

Various substances can either decrease or increase your appetite, causing people to either not eat enough (resulting in malnutrition) or eat too much, which can wreak havoc on the gastrointestinal system. Most drugs also cause direct damage to the organs in the body responsible for nutrient breakdown and processing, creating many nutrient deficiencies. A healthy diet full of micro and macronutrients found in healthy fat, protein, healthy carbohydrates and enough hydration can begin to reverse the damage, creating a better operating system in your body.

Boosts Brain Health

Consuming carbohydrates, amino acids, dietary fat and fatty acids, like Omega 3s and Omega 6s, can significantly repair neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to form new connections and rearrange old ones in response to trauma or a change in the environment (this includes addiction). It can be very hard to adapt to sobriety once this adaptation of addiction in the brain has been made, but by eating healthy foods, neuroplasticity is improved, helping stave off addiction.

Helps with Craving Management

Complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains, help reduce cravings with the help of serotonin, crucial for a stable mood, adequate sleep and reduced cravings. Amino acids help produce dopamine, which helps curb cravings as well as reduce negativity and aggression. When the body is getting what it needs, it’s less likely to reach for the substances that cause so much harm.

Boosts Mood

Adding more poultry and fish to your diet is a great way to get more tyrosine in the body, an amino acid that helps to enhance your mood and well-being. In addition, carbohydrates and adequate amino acids help to reverse a negative mood, and getting proper hydration throughout the day boosts every single mechanism in the body, including your mood.

Tips On Incorporating Diet & Exercise Into Your Routine

When on the road to addiction recovery, maintaining a balanced diet and exercise regimen could be a game-changer in your recovery (and lessen the likelihood of relapse). Keep these things in mind when embarking on a healthier day-to-day routine:

  • Make the commitment (and stick to it): Enroll in a gym membership, yoga studio, or join a hiking group to ensure you maintain a regular exercise routine. Do something you love. If you hate going to the gym, try an exercise class, biking, hiking or swimming instead. Get the help of a nutritionist or go on a specific diet regimen that will help you stay on track nutritionally.
  • Choose the right form of exercise for you: While there is no type of exercise best suited to addiction recovery, there are exercises best suited to your fitness level. If you have low energy levels, try walking or yoga. If you’re feeling up to it, running, biking, strength training, or even team sports are great options. It’s important not to try to do too much too soon, as this can burn you out. No matter the exercise program you choose, there are positive effects.
  • Avoid processed foods: If you feel overwhelmed about where to start when it comes to shifting your diet, start by cutting out processed foods. When you go to the grocery store, as a rule of thumb, stick to the outskirts of the store (where produce, dairy and meats are found) and skip the chemically induced cookie, chips and cereal isles. If the food needs to be refrigerated, that’s a good sign, as it’s more likely a whole food. Read ingredients carefully and make sure to eat enough complex carbs, proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat regular meals at the same time everyday: Keeping a meal plan and a food routine will help you stay on track. Aim to eat the same types of meals at the same times of day to keep blood sugar levels optimal and avoid snacking on unhealthy foods in between meals.
  • Stay moving: In addition to keeping an exercise routine, moving your body on the days you’re not working out is optimal as you detox. This can include simple tasks, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to a coffee shop instead of driving and getting plenty of sun during the day.
  • Get an accountability buddy: If you’re not working with a professional, enlist the help of a trusted friend or mentor to do the exercises and diet with you, or to hold you accountable on your own plan. Making changes can be tough, so having support will help you get through the hard days.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: When you first wake up, drink plenty of water to hydrate your cells and to help detoxify your body. Avoid drinking too much caffeine and opt for water and hydrating teas instead (such as herbal teas). Your body will thank you.

The Importance of Professional Guidance and Support

Before changing your entire diet and day-to-day routine, it’s important to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional. Various substances cause different nutritional deficiencies, so having personalized help will give you the specific diet and exercise regimen you need. It’s also important to assess your health before beginning a new exercise routine too.

Call Caron Today

At Caron, we recognize that recovery encompasses care and attention to the whole person — mind, body, and spirit. Fitness and proper nutrition are critical components in achieving physical health and for supporting balanced emotional health on your road to recovery. We provide healthy meals, nutrition education and counseling, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center at our East Coast facilities. Contact us today to learn more.

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