How Does Exercise and a Healthy Diet Impact Recovery?

How Does Exercise and a Healthy Diet Impact Recovery?

When you choose a life in recovery, you decide to pursue a healthier lifestyle and prioritize your well-being. Therefore, recovery can also be an ideal time to assess and make healthy changes to your diet and exercise habits. Simultaneously changing your diet and exercise routines can be challenging, but you do not have to overhaul your diet and exercise practices all at once. Even small changes add up over time and can positively affect your recovery efforts and improve your overall health.

Exercise and Its Protective Effects on Sobriety

Studies have consistently shown that aerobic exercise is inversely related to substance use. This could be because exercise can serve as an alternative reinforcer to drugs or because exercise produces changes in the brain that affect an individual’s risk for developing a substance use disorder (SUD). Another reason could be that exercise helps decrease mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, which often coincide with SUDs. Exercise can increase the brain concentration of dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters involved in the reward pathway that drugs also stimulate. Additionally, exercise decreases norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in relapse.

Using Exercise to Help Maintain Sobriety

It is critical to seek help from professionals when you begin your recovery journey. Exercise is a tool that you can use in addition to therapy and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) as part of a comprehensive treatment program. If it has been a while since you have exercised or have never been physically active, start slow and work towards increasing your heart rate over time. Some ways to begin increasing movement in your daily life include:

  • Take short, brisk walks. Start going a few times a week and increase the pace, frequency and time as you get stronger.
  • Starting a yoga class. This can help you become stronger, more flexible and aware of the mind-body connection. There are programs for every fitness level.
  • Hiking. Explore trailheads or parks in your area.
  • Going for a swim. Swimming is an excellent exercise that is enjoyable for many. Additionally, water can have a soothing effect on the soul.
  • Being playful. Consider joining a community, intramural or church league if you enjoy team sports. You can enjoy spending time with others while reaping the benefits of exercise.
  • Joining a gym. Participate in weightlifting and aerobics classes. If you are unsure where to start, work out with a personal trainer.

Healthy Nutrition and Recovery

Proper nutrition is vital for overall health and wellness, yet there are no nutrition-specific assessments or guidelines for people with SUDs. In addition, some substances increase appetite and may cause weight gain. At the same time, malnutrition is often a risk with other substances due to limited food consumption or consuming food low in nutrients. Since there is evidence that malnutrition promotes drug-seeking behaviors, treatment facilities and providers may be able to improve outcomes by addressing nutrition at the beginning of and during SUD treatment. Working with a nutritionist and fitness expert is vital for your recovery program.

If you are living with a SUD, you may likely have nutrient deficiencies that can lead to serious health complications over time. In addition, these deficiencies can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, which consequently lead to a desire to continue substance use to self-medicate.

The Importance of Hydration During Recovery

Up to 60% of the human adult body is water, and it is essential to remain hydrated. Hydration replaces body fluids lost through sweating, exhaling and eliminating waste. On average, the body loses and needs to replace about two to three quarts of water daily. Water, teas, sports drinks, lemon water and vegetable broth are the best sources of hydration. Foods with high water content can also contribute to hydration.

Unfortunately, some drugs can cause dehydration, and if you experience vomiting during withdrawal, you can become dehydrated. Some symptoms of dehydration to be aware of:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Urinating and sweating less than usual

Being adequately hydrated can help you feel better during withdrawal, but it can also help you feel your best during recovery. It flushes toxins, regulates temperature, cushions joints, helps reduce muscle soreness, improves energy and maintains normal brain functioning.

Some ways to ensure you stay adequately hydrated are:

  • Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning.
  • Keep a water bottle with you and drink water regularly between meals.
  • Drink water before, during and after exercise.
  • Eat foods with high water content, such as cucumbers and watermelon.

Making small changes to your diet and getting more exercise when you begin your recovery can make you feel great and improve your overall wellness.

Making lifestyle changes can be challenging. Those recent changes can feel overwhelming if you are beginning recovery and considering adding a healthy diet and exercise to your new healthier lifestyle. Casa Palmera can help you start on the right foot. Substance use and mental health disorders are complex and require deeper care than just treating a set of medical symptoms. We believe in the importance of treating the whole person. Exercise and a healthy diet are essential aspects of the treatment process. We provide nutritional counseling and opportunities to engage in exercises, such as yoga, hiking and walking. You can even challenge yourself on our ropes course. Physical activity requires fuel, so we provide healthy, nourishing meals and snacks to restore your body. If you are ready to begin your recovery process, call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473 to learn more about how we can help you embrace a sober, healthy life.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.