Everyone knows that maintaining physical fitness and a well-balanced diet are essential for our overall health. The research is clear. Staying in shape and eating right can extend our lives and vastly improve the quality of our lives.
What is less understood is the various ways in which a good diet and exercise pattern can help a variety of other health problems. For example, there is ample evidence to show that a good diet and regular exercise routine can help people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Indeed, diet and exercise can enhance recovery, improve quality of life, and ultimately help the former user live a healthier life that is free of these addictive substances.
How is this the case? And what sort of fitness routines and diets can help an addict recover faster or get through detox? Read on to learn more about how fitness and nutrition affect substance use disorder recovery.
Fitness for Mental Health and Addiction
There is no question about it, fitness can be great for your mental health. A wide array of research has demonstrated this to be the case. Exercise can help you get in better shape, but it also has a variety of ancillary benefits, including improved energy levels, better sleep, increased sense of well-being, and more.
The mental health benefits of exercise are very notable. Some studies have found that exercise can reduce depression. For example, a 2019 study found that regular physical activity can cut the risk of depression and anxiety. Indeed, that study specifically noted that higher levels of exercise were directly correlated with “reduced odds for major depression.”
These findings were reiterated in a Psychology Today article. The authors reviewed the overwhelming data for depression and anxiety and noted that regular exercise releases a wide array of neurotransmitters, such as endocannabinoids and dopamine. All of these neurotransmitters have the effect of improving our mood and reducing levels of depression and anxiety.
A 2011 article that appeared in a publication by the American Psychological Association made similar findings. This article specifically noted that there is a growing body of evidence to show the various mood enhancement benefits of exercise and specifically recommended that therapists encourage their patients to exercise. It also discussed the many unknowns of exercise and mental illness, including what kinds of exercise worked best to improve someone’s mood, how long an exercise session should last, and at what point the law of diminishing returns began to kick in.
These studies and reviews have been around for decades. For example, a 2006 review specifically noted that heavy-duty exercise was not necessary to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. Any sort of exercise could work, including walking, gardening, yoga, or dancing. All of this has extremely positive implications for people of all shapes, sizes, and physical conditions. This means you don’t have to spend two hours a day in the gym. Instead, you can simply engage in some light exercise and begin to feel better.
These findings apply to more than just general mood disorders like depression and anxiety. They also seem to work when it comes to addiction and recovery. This has been found in studies of both animals and humans. For example, as noted in this Harvard review, multiple animal studies have found a direct connection between addiction recovery and exercising. Animals that swim regularly will opt to take less morphine, and rats that are addicted to cocaine will consume less cocaine if they have access to an exercise wheel.
The same article noted that human studies have made similar findings. A Danish study in 2010 found that people in recovery who participated in an exercise program showed reduced drug consumption and improved quality of life. This study, and others like it, seems to clearly show the connection between improved recovery odds and exercise.
Developing a Fitness Routine
So, what exercises seem to work for people in recovery? It is tough to say because there has yet to be any specific research on what types of workouts work better than others. The answer seems to be highly personalized. Whatever exercise you do should get your heart rate going and be safe for you to engage in. This can involve a few things, including running, walking, going to the gym, or taking fitness classes.
It’s also important to note that fitness is certainly important for overcoming addition, but so are social bonds. For example, there is ample evidence that shows that strong social bonds can help keep people from becoming addicted to substances. Additional studies have also found that healthy relationships can help people maintain recovery.
As such, workout routines that allow you to be social may be of additional assistance. This may involve participating in a team sport, taking gym classes, or going on regular walks with friends, family, or other people who are in recovery with you. This will enhance your shared bond, create a workout accountability partner, and ultimately help you stick with a new exercise regimen.
To be clear, exercise is not a treatment modality in and of itself. However, based on animal and human studies, it does seem extremely likely that exercise can be a valuable addition to other evidence-based treatments, like therapy and medication assisted programs. Combining exercise with any of these proven methods may go a long way toward increasing the odds of recovery.
Nutrition for Mental Health and Addiction
While fitness is an important component of recovering from addictions, it is not the only one. Numerous studies also suggest that maintaining a good diet can help you recover.
A variety of evidence shows that nutrition is directly correlated with a positive mood and fighting off mental illness. One Harvard article directly compared the idea of nutrition influencing your health to the way that fuel influences your car. Your food is your fuel, and putting in bad fuel will lead to bad results. The same article pointed to the fact that serotonin, a critical neurotransmitter that is heavily involved with mood disorders, is largely produced in your gastrointestinal tract. As a result, the food you eat can dramatically influence the ability of this neurotransmitter to do its job.
Additional studies have found that certain foods are correlated with decreased risks of mood disorders. These include:
• Fish, which are high in Omega 3s, a fat that is thought to be vitally important to mood disorders and overall brain health. Indeed, there is even some evidence to suggest that taking fish oil can help improve mood.
• Nuts, and specifically walnuts, which are also high in Omega 3s.
• Beans, which contain a variety of vitamins and can help to maintain blood sugar levels.
• Certain types of seeds, specifically flaxseed and chia seeds, which contain Omega 3s.
Other potentially helpful foods include poultry, probiotics, whole foods, and vegetables.
Furthermore, more “traditional” diets, like a Japanese or Mediterranean diet, are linked with a 25% to 35% lower chance of developing depression than a standard western diet.
The reverse also appears to be true. Western diets seem to be linked to higher rates of depression, as do certain foods like those that are high in sugar. Specific foods that seem to be tied to mood disorders include fruit juices, soda, alcohol, white bread, sugary condiments like ketchup and energy drinks.
Clearly, evidence suggests that food can help or harm your mental health. So, how does this information fit into recovery? It appears that certain foods can better help individuals deal with withdrawal from certain substances.
For alcohol withdrawal, experts have found that the most important thing people can do is focus on rehydrating themselves. Addicts who are suffering from alcohol withdrawal will often have upset stomachs or extreme nausea and vomiting. This, in turn, can lead to dehydration. In addition to drinking more water than usual, individuals should concentrate on a balanced diet that is rich in vitamin Bs and minerals. This means eating foods like eggs, beans, nuts, peas. It could also mean taking vitamin supplements and eating leafy greens, dairy foods, and whole grains. Furthermore, individuals experiencing alcohol withdrawal may need to have more zinc, and that often means beef and almonds.
Heroin withdrawal is often extremely painful and debilitating. Experts have noted that many of the same challenges that exist with alcohol withdrawal also exist with heroin withdrawal but in more severe forms. Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and both of these can cause your body to lose critical nutrients. Unfortunately, the reverse is also highly possible, as many individuals who withdraw from opiates experience painful constipation.
Therefore, diet is important to heroin withdrawal. A balanced meal is critical, and diets should be high in fiber. Fiber supplements may be appropriate, but you should always check with your doctor. It is also highly advisable to have a diet that is rich in complex carbohydrates. These include foods like whole grains, beans, and other vegetables.
Again, it is important to note that good nutrition should be a supplemental part of your efforts to recover from substance use disorder. Changing your diet, in and of itself, will not be sufficient to overcome your addiction. For that, you will likely need professional assistance. Thankfully, there are many resources and facilities available to help. One such example is The Granite House.
Getting Help at The Granite House
The Granite House in Derry, New Hampshire, has built a reputation on treating the entire patient. This means working with medical experts, family members, and the patient themselves to craft the best course of treatment and ensure recovery. The Granite House uses an evidence-based, 12-step curriculum designed to help patients recover from their addictions and get their lives back on track.
What makes The Granite House different from other in-patient facilities is the comprehensive nature of our program. We offer a wide array of services, including a medical detox program, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient treatment, and a unique mentorship program designed to help our new patients acclimate to their new treatment. Furthermore, patients get access to nutritious meals and get opportunities to exercise.
We also provide more than just rehabilitation services. We treat the whole person. That means that we offer a wide array of supplemental services designed to help you beat back your addiction. This includes a wide array of treatment options, including advice and guidance on exercise and nutrition.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, know that there is help available. The Granite House can help you get your life back. For more information, visit our website or give us a call.