You’ve heard about the importance of fitness for wellness since you were a kid, hence all the laps, situps and jumping jacks you had to do in P.E. class. Exercise machines on store floors, and gyms in every city also spell out the necessity for physical health. But there are two other wellness elements that are just as important as exercise: mental health maintenance and nutrition. 

Exercise and nutrition both play a critical role in mental health. This is especially true when considering the risks of mental health issues and substance use disorders. Studies show that regular exercise and a healthy diet can decrease the chances of mental illness and substance abuse, considering the advantages they provide. One such study involved Dr. James Blumenthal, PhD, of Duke University, who led population-base correlation studies and experimental studies on the effects of exercise on mental health. “There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people,” he says. “And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program.” 

With a series of wellness strategies, you can implement exercise and nutrition into your everyday life while having a healthy mind and body. And having a healthy mind and body can create a domino effect of benefits for you and the people around you.

Fitness for Mental Health and Addiction

Decades worth of research, including studies performed at the University of Florida and Harvard School of Public Health, support the benefits that exercise and other physical activity can have on mental health. Comparable to the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, these benefits can improve various areas of life, including spiritual, emotional, professional and social. They can also aid in managing depression and anxiety by decreasing stress levels. 

  • Regular aerobic exercise can decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve sleep and self-esteem.
  • Exercise and other physical activity produces endorphins, which are brain chemicals that act as natural painkillers.
  • Approximately five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
  • For some people, regular exercise is just as effective as medication to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, with long-lasting effects.

*Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

Physical activity plays a part in drug rehabilitation settings as well; exercise and drug addiction are both common elements of drug treatment centers. The Recovery Village is just one of the many facilities that offers amenities that incorporate physical fitness, ranging from volleyball to basketball to swimming. Exercise can help with drug or alcohol detox by eliminating toxins that are present through sweat.

Have you ever asked, “Can you sweat out opiates?” or “Does exercise help opiate withdrawal?” Are you struggling with any other substance, wondering about sweating out the drugs from your system? These are just a few of the questions that arise regarding the use of exercise for opiate withdrawal, among other substances. 

Addiction Recovery Workout Tips 

Exercise and addiction recovery often go hand in hand. If you’re currently in recovery from addiction, there are a variety of ways to stay there by incorporating various exercises into your daily or weekly routine. Many of these methods can be done at home or close to home, free of charge, while others require a monthly or annual membership. But all methods require personal commitment for the best results:

Running, walking or jogging:

This can be done around your home or job, at the nearest bike trail or on a public track. One of the benefits of outdoor running is the scenery and calming atmosphere. If outdoor running isn’t an option, you can join your local gym and use a treadmill, or buy one for your home. Whether you choose to run indoors or outdoors, try adding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn more calories and acquire more cardiovascular benefits. This means alternating between moving at a fast speed for short periods of time, and moving at a slower speed for recovery.


Founded in 2000, this fitness regimen incorporates various forms of exercise, including HIIT, powerlifting, plyometrics and calisthenics to lose body fat, and increase strength and cardiovascular efficiency. With its physical benefits and competitive element, this regimen has steadily increased in popularity, appealing to men and women of various fitness levels. Although more costly than other exercise options, CrossFit provides an edge over some of the competition: camaraderie, motivation and coaching.

Fitness boot camp:

This physical training program is designed to help participants build strength and fitness through various intense group intervals. It’s conducted by personal trainers, gyms and former military personnel. The program involves a combination of running, dynamic stretching, interval training (plyometrics, pushups, etc.) and intense explosive activities. As with many other workout classes, potential benefits include strength training and decreased body fat.

Personal trainer:

Personal trainers are knowledgeable about physical fitness and are certified in providing exercise instruction and developing customized workout plans (exercise prescriptions). Unlike other exercise options, having a personal trainer allows you to have one-on-one feedback from a fitness professional while you work out. You can be certain that you’re performing your routines correctly and at an appropriate speed, using enough weight, and progressing to achieve your desired results.

Group exercise classes:

If you’re not a fan of the intensity that CrossFit or boot camp classes offer, but you still like working out with other people, consider other group exercise classes. Zumba, yoga, dancing lessons (salsa, hip hop, etc.) and gymnastics are just a few examples. In addition to the fitness and wellness benefits, you can build lasting friendships with like-minded people who can become part of your support system through your recovery.

Nutrition for Mental Health and Addiction

In addition to exercise, a balanced diet is a necessary component for a healthy mind. Different foods serve different purposes in the body. By learning the benefits of each, you can improve your mental health and prevent or manage certain mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. On the other hand, a poor diet may actually contribute to depression, based on a meta-analysis conducted by researchers at Linyi People’s Hospital in China that included studies from 10 countries. 

  • Increased intake of folate is associated with a lower risk of depression. Spinach, kale, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains all contain high amounts of folate.
  • Caffeine can trigger panic attacks in people with anxiety disorders, so it should be avoided in excess for these individuals.
  • Depression rates are higher in people with a deficiency of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is naturally present in salmon and tuna while foods like milk and orange juice are Vitamin D fortified. 
  • People with diets rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and unsaturated fats are 30 percent less likely to develop depression than people who eat lots of meat and dairy products.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in treating depression and stabilizing mood. Flaxseed oil, chia seeds, eggs, seafood and spinach are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.

*Source: Mental Health America

A healthy diet also plays a role in various phases of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction treatment. The Recovery Village offers drug rehab facilities throughout the country, all of which provide nutrient-dense meals, some of which are prepared by private chefs and monitored by dietitians. 

VeganVegetarianOvo-Vegetarian Paleo
Nuts and seeds
Whole grains
Fresh basil
Orange juice
Turkey (grass-fed)
*Source: The Paleo Diet and Mental Health America

How Food Is Used for Addiction Treatment

Diet and nutrition are important components during various stages of treatment (detox, recovery, post-recovery, etc.) for drug and alcohol addiction. Because side effects and withdrawal symptoms — which can be affected by certain foods — vary from substance to substance, diets change during each phase of professional treatment. The following are three examples of addictions that incorporate specific foods during treatment:

Heroin addiction:

Individuals who are addicted to heroin or other opiates benefit from fiber-rich, organic fruits and vegetables as well as animal products. These foods help reduce the amount of toxicity that the liver must process.

Alcohol addiction:

Heavy alcohol use can cause nutritional deficiencies, especially in Vitamin B1, B6 and folic acid, which can cause anemia and problems with the nervous system. Therefore, a diet for someone being treated for alcoholism will likely contain more foods with these nutrients than a diet for another disorder.

Meth addiction:

Meth can take a toll on the mind and body, resulting in nutritional deficiencies, malnutrition, and dehydration which can cause liver damage. As a result, monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids (found in grains, oily fish, fat-free dairy products and nuts) are common ingredients used in diets during treatment to detox the liver, improve brain functions and repair damaged tissue.

Learn more about some of the
most commonly abused substances.

Alcohol | Benzos | Cocaine | Fentanyl | Heroin | Marijuana | Opioids | Xanax

Supplemental Wellness Strategies 

Trying to balance a healthy diet and exercise for optimum mental health can be challenging at times, especially if you’re not used to eating healthy or exercising. The recovery process can also make it challenging. But it’s not impossible, and careful wellness planning and maintenance can make the process easier. Consider the following wellness strategies to improve and maintain your mind and body while combining diet and exercise:

Find a support network:

This can include sober friends, support groups and family members. Having a support network can not only keep you mentally healthy and sober; it can create a sense of belonging as well.

Stay positive:

To stay positive, you have to first choose to be positive. If you struggle with negative thoughts, which then become your words, change your thinking. Be positive in the words you speak to yourself and others.

Lend a helping hand:

Volunteering at an animal shelter, hospital or any other place can give you a sense of purpose. If you’re in recovery from alcoholism, attending an AA meeting with the purpose of helping others struggling with alcohol can also be rewarding.

Get help when you need it:

If you’re struggling with a weight, mental health, general health or substance use issue, don’t be afraid to seek or ask for help. There are thousands of resources available all over the country to help you with whatever you’re struggling with.

Catch some Zzz’s:

Getting enough sleep every night is important for your mind and your body. Some benefits include improved memory, reduced fatigue, sharpened attention, healthy weight and reduced stress.

Join a hobby group:

Whether you like sports, art or something else, there’s a group for you. Check out Meetup.comto find activities that interest you. There are thousands of groups all over the country centered around different hobbies, ranging from sports to writing to painting. By attending a group, you can make friends while doing something you enjoy.

Combining effective wellness strategies with exercise and a balanced diet can create the perfect concoction for a healthy life. And remember, if you need additional help for a mental health or substance use disorder, The Recovery Village offers personalized treatment programs that can help. Call today to speak with someone who can direct you to the center that best suits your needs.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.