It seems like a small thing but when it comes to making great strides in recovery, sometimes it is the little changes that launch the greatest overall progress. Eating healthy foods (more veggies!) while limiting unhealthy foods (e.g., fried foods, sweets, and processed foods) and adding regular cardiovascular and weight-bearing workouts to your schedule can go a long way toward helping you to stay clean and sober. This is no abstract theory. There are literally hundreds of studies that demonstrate the benefits of eating well and working out regularly, and almost all of these benefits will in turn improve your ability to avoid relapse in recovery. Here’s how.
How you feel plays a significant role in how you act. If you feel bad about yourself or just feel down in general, you may be less likely to make positive choices that will improve your ability to stay sober. Studies show that eating well and working out regularly can help to:
- Lower stress
- Lower anxiety
- Decrease symptoms of depression
- Increase enthusiasm and excitement for life
- Improve self-esteem
Regular exercise and proper nutrition have been shown to diminish intrusive symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress – all of which are often connected to relapse. Because people in active addiction often drink or use drugs as an attempt to “self-medicate” these mental health issues, the trigger to drink or get high is decreased when they are less of a problem.
Your energy levels can soar when you workout regularly and eat foods that do not bog you down or make you tired. Studies show that regular exercise and positive nutrition can contribute to:
- Lower rates of insomnia
- Improved cognitive function and memory
- Decreased issues with chronic pain
- Improved immune system function
Additionally, one study suggests that walking improved divergent and convergent thinking, both of which are significant to the creative process, thus exercise can enhance creativity as well – which may also serve to boost your energy and your commitment to recovery.
Boost to Physical Wellness
In addition to feeling better after eating a nutritious meal and after you get your endorphins flowing during a workout, regular exercise and healthy eating can help your physical health in almost innumerable ways. Just as positive mental health can improve your ability to stay sober, so too can positive physical health improve your ability to avoid relapse.
Regular exercise and positive nutrition choices can lead to:
- Lowered risk of metabolic syndrome as well as reversing damage caused by metabolic syndrome
- Fewer problems with allergies
- Increased bone density, fewer fractures, and lesser risk of osteoporosis
- Less difficulty with premenstrual syndrome
- Lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and other heart problems
- Lowered risk of diabetes, certain types of cancer, lung disease, and more
- Increased life expectancy
When you add regular habits to your schedule, you will soon find yourself in the company of others who are walking the same path. Do you take the same yoga class every week or go to the gym at the same times? You will soon begin to see the same people, strike up conversations, and develop positive relationships. The same will occur when you join online support groups for positive nutrition and healthy weight management, or regularly go to the farmers market or join a CSA to get fresh produce.
Though not everyone you meet along the way will be living a sober life, most who are actively trying to eat healthy and work out regularly will be respectful of your choice to stay sober, and it can be nice to make connections with positive people who are living a life that is not defined by drugs and alcohol.
All of the above benefits of eating right and working out regularly will contribute to your ability to stay sober in recovery. Feeling better mentally and physically while creating a network of support among people who are also making healthy choices is going to help you feel more confident and focused, and less likely to make choices that will ultimately lead to relapse.
One study reports that exercise triggers the same pathways in the brain that are triggered by addictive use of substances like alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and others. This mechanism and its effects require further investigation, but researchers suggest that this could mean that people in recovery who exercise regularly may find it easier to avoid relapse or any “temptation,” for that matter.
Using Your Resources
Though simply eating right and working out will not stop you from relapse if you are living in active addiction, these choices and other similar choices that promote self-care and overall wellness can have a huge impact on your life. When combined with regular engagement with mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment aftercare and support services, and connection with a strong support system in recovery, nutrition and exercise can help you to live a healthier, happier, and more balanced life in recovery.
How do you help yourself stick to your recovery goals and manage triggers to relapse? Have you had any luck incorporating nutritional therapy, personal training, or other wellness therapies into your recovery plan? How do you find that making these changes has impacted your ability to avoid triggers for relapse, connect with other people in recovery, and make positive changes in the rest of your life?