The Role Of Fitness & Nutrition In Addiction Recovery

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 22, 2023

Addiction takes a serious toll on your physical and mental health. During recovery, you can restore your health by focusing on fitness and nutrition. Regular physical activity can reduce drug cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms, give your life structure, and boost your self-esteem. Similarly, nutritious foods can help you heal from addiction-related health problems.

Like many other diseases, addiction affects your entire body. During recovery, you must work hard to restore both your physical and mental health

That’s why many addiction treatment programs in Ohio offer guidance on fitness and nutrition. By staying active and eating right, you set yourself up for a healthy, drug-free life. 

The Role Of Fitness For Addiction Recovery

When you live with addiction, it’s difficult to focus on anything besides getting and using drugs. As a result, you may neglect your body’s need for physical activity and healthy meals. 

This neglect can take a serious toll on your mood, energy, and self-esteem. It also increases your risk of various physical and mental health problems. That’s why it’s essential to incorporate fitness into your addiction recovery plan

In fact, Studies show that fitness reduces your risk of relapse in multiple ways.

Reduced Drug Cravings 

Regular physical activity can decrease drug cravings. 

This is likely because exercise causes a natural high by triggering the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that increase feelings of well-being. They can also decrease anxiety, sadness, and other unpleasant feelings that might make you want to self-medicate with drugs. 

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Healthy Dopamine Levels

Similarly, regular exercise can increase the amount of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. It’s the same chemical that gets triggered by addictive drugs. 

However, exercise triggers a much smaller and healthier amount of dopamine.

Eased Withdrawal Symptoms

Exercise can also reduce withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant physical and psychological effects that occur when you stop using an addictive drug. 

Some common withdrawal symptoms that can be eased by exercise include irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and fatigue. With fewer withdrawal symptoms, you’re less likely to relapse.

Sense Of Structure

Regular exercise also keeps you busy and gives your life a sense of structure. In other words, it can help you avoid boredom, which is a common cause of relapse. It also gives you plenty of opportunities to build a healthy social network. 

Many people make friends by attending yoga classes, signing up for marathons, or participating in other group exercise events. 

Boost To Self-Esteem

Finally, exercise can make you feel accomplished and boost your self-esteem. In general, the more confident you feel, the easier it is to stick to your recovery plan. Due to these benefits, many addiction treatment programs employ personal trainers and recreational counselors. Some even have gyms and fitness centers.

What Exercises Should You Do? 

Research suggests that all forms of physical activity can benefit people in recovery. Some of the most popular options include:

  • walking
  • running
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • boxing
  • gardening
  • yoga

Your doctor can help you determine the types of exercise that work best for you. Try out multiple options to see which ones you like most. When you find activities you truly enjoy, it will be much easier to make them part of your regular routine. 

Outdoor Activities

Consider choosing at least one outdoor physical activity. Like exercising, spending time in nature reduces stress and improves your mood. Combining the two activities can greatly boost your health and help you stay sober. 

How Often Should You Exercise?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week

For example, you could go for a 30-minute walk 5 days a week. You should also complete muscle-strengthening activities (such as weightlifting) at least 2 days a week. To figure out your ideal exercise schedule, talk to your doctor.

Nutrition & Addiction Recovery

Many people start their addiction recovery journeys with nutritional deficiencies. In some cases,  the deficiencies were caused by the drugs themselves.

Alcohol, Drugs, & Nutritional Deficiencies 

Alcohol often causes B vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to anemia and nervous system issues. Alcohol can also damage your pancreas and liver, organs that play important roles in nutrient absorption.

Other times, people develop nutritional deficiencies because their substance misuse makes it difficult to eat properly. 

For example, some drugs, especially stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine, can suppress your appetite. If you use them on a regular basis, you may undereat to the point of malnutrition. Common signs of malnutrition include fatigue, weakness, and frequent coldness. 

Even if you don’t use drugs that suppress your appetite, addiction can prevent you from eating a healthy diet. 

Many people with addiction have trouble taking care of themselves because they spend so much time thinking about drugs. They may struggle to prepare nutritious dishes and instead rely on junk food.

The Role Of Healthy Meals  

As you recover from addiction, it’s important to reintroduce healthy meals into your life. A nutritious diet supports your recovery in multiple ways. 

For example, like exercise, healthy foods can reduce drug cravings by boosting your mood. They also give you the energy you need to cope with triggers and stay sober. 

In addition, a healthy diet can restore nutrients lost from vomiting and diarrhea, which are common opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

Nutrients can also help you recover from health problems caused by your substance misuse, such as organ damage, cardiovascular problems, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

What Foods Should You Eat?

Your specific nutritional needs depend on your age, sex, and other personal factors. Your doctor or nutritionist can work with you to create a personalized nutrition plan. Some addiction treatment programs also have nutritional counselors who can help you determine your needs.

Drink More Water 

In most cases, your doctor or nutritionist will recommend that you drink more water and limit caffeine. Along with causing dehydration, caffeine can suppress your appetite, making it more difficult to eat a balanced diet.

Eat More Carbs

Your doctor may also recommend that you eat more carbohydrates. Carbohydrates (carbs) are macronutrients that serve as your body’s main source of energy. Some healthy sources of carbs include sweet potatoes, bananas, oats, and kidney beans. 

These foods can keep you energized and stabilize your mood.

Eat Foods Rich In Protein

You can also benefit from foods that are rich in protein. Protein helps rebuild muscle mass you may have lost from malnutrition. It also helps repair your body’s tissues. Popular protein-rich foods include eggs, fish, meat, nuts, beans, and dairy products. 

Consider Vitamins & Supplements

Finally, your doctor may recommend that you take vitamin and mineral supplements, especially in early recovery. 

Some of the most commonly recommended supplements for people in recovery include vitamin A, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, zinc, and amino acids. These substances help your body heal from the constant stress of addiction. 

To learn more about addiction recovery, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, holistic treatment plans to help you or your loved one stay sober. 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — How much physical activity do adults need?
  2. Harvard Health Publishing — Can exercise help conquer addiction?
  3. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Substance use recovery and diet
  4. PLoS One — Impact of Physical Exercise on Substance Use Disorders: A Meta-Analysis
  5. University of California Berkeley — Five Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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