The Importance of Nutrition and Exercise in Addiction Recovery

The constant misuse of alcohol and drugs in the pre-treatment phase for those with addictions can wreak havoc on the body and mind. For those who have struggled for a longer time with substance use disorder (SUD), serious illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease, hypertension, and heart disease are relatively common. Not only can patients experience these chronic illnesses, but those with SUD can also experience damage to their brains. Repeated misuse of alcohol and drugs essentially destroys brain cells while contracting the brain tissue and affecting neurotransmitters within the brain. Brain fogs are often reported when repeated use of illicit substances shapes and alters pathways in the brain. Some of these effects are the result of psychoactive substances interacting with brain chemistry, while others can be traced to the mind and body link when deprived of nutrients. 


No matter the age, though, malnutrition persists among those in recovery from addiction. Thankfully, both body and mind can heal with prolonged abstinence and a proper health care regimen. Both exercise and nutrition can be critical elements in this healing process. In addition to the physical healing benefits, regular exercise and proper nutrition can also be psychologically beneficial for recovery patients by creating routines and structures, further aiding long-term sobriety. 


What Does Regular Exercise and Proper Nutrition Entail?


Regular exercise can be as intense as jogging several miles or as low impact as walking around the block. Both activities will achieve similar goals helping the body recover from SUD. Physical activity will release endorphins which act as the body’s natural defense against oncoming depression. Any team sports or pickup games are recommended as well as yoga and pilates. 


Exercise classes, in general, present an excellent opportunity to kill two birds with one stone — socializing and experiencing the health rewards from exercising. Those in recovery should try to find a physical activity they enjoy to ensure exercise goals are met and continue to be met. We would also caution to avoid the potential for experiencing dry drunk syndrome — addictive behavioral patterns remain even while abstaining from drugs and alcohol — by exercising too often. Addictive behaviors do not start and stop with illicit substances and can easily transfer to a hobby or task-oriented activity like exercise. 


Those in recovery should seek out a balanced diet that includes lean protein sources, oranges, avocados, berries, green vegetables, beans, and selected grains to ensure proper nutrition. A diet that is low in glycemic sugars and high in dopamine-releasing nutrients and amino acids is recommended for early recovery. Sugars and caffeine should initially be avoided to avoid falling back into addictive behavioral patterns. 


6 Benefits of Regular Exercise and Proper Nutrition


Below we have listed some of the key benefits that proper nutrition and exercise have for those in recovery: 


  • Health Benefits: Both exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet will ultimately improve clients’ overall health and well-being. Eating better and exercising will naturally lead to an increase in feeling better. Weight loss can occur, and a client’s overall health and well-being will likely improve and lower the risk of severe health complications from substance abuse. 

  • Goal-Oriented: Creating and maintaining a healthy diet allows clients to achieve tasks and create structure in daily life. These are skills that may have either been ignored or never learned. 

  • Provides Structure/Routine: Taking the time to exercise or prepare a meal in advance will create a structure or routine for each day, both of which help promote the maintenance of long-term sobriety.

  • Reduce Anxiety: The physical activity of exercise can alleviate stress and reduce anxiety through the exertion of energy. Confusion within the body’s fight or flight reaction can result in pent-up energy leading to anxiety. Exercise can eliminate some of this excess energy or at least reduce it to more manageable levels. 

  • Regulate Sleep Habits: Those in recovery often report having irregular sleeping patterns in early recovery. As in the case of anxiety, the physical exertion of energy can ensure healthy sleep throughout the night. 

  • Mentally: Alcohol and drug misuse disrupts neurotransmitters within the brain, decreasing cognitive functioning and emotional stability. Healthy eating and regular exercise will release dopamine and endorphins that naturally reduce the onset of depression while also helping to control cravings in early recovery. Exercise has been shown to help mitigate some withdrawal symptoms and help remove toxins from the body. Endorphins released during exercise can heal damaged brain cells, creating new pathways that will improve brain functions to boost mood.


Substance use disorder (SUD) can take an exacting toll on the body both physically and mentally. As SUD begins to govern patients’ lives, illicit substances have the potential to damage organs, blood vessels, and brain cells while putting good health and well-being on the backburner. If you or someone you love is experiencing physical and mental effects from SUD, then Choice House has treatment services that can help men achieve initial sobriety and learn the skills to maintain it in the long term. Our programs include a 90-day inpatient service, an intensive outpatient program, and a sober living campus. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, we utilize various therapeutic modalities to promote healthy living, such as our wilderness therapy. These physical activities serve as a perfect jump start for the body to begin healing as clients experience new hobbies that can follow them long after leaving our facilities. For more information about Choice House facilities or treatment services, please give us a call at (303) 578-4977.

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