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What is a Healthy Lifestyle in Recovery?

Updated: Jan 11

What is a Healthy Lifestyle in Recovery?

In this blog, we will look at the benefits and necessity of having a healthy lifestyle in recovery and how having a healthy lifestyle greatly improves our chances of staying in recovery.


The relationship between health and addiction works both ways, i.e. addiction leads to an unhealthy lifestyle, and an unhealthy lifestyle makes us more prone to addiction and relapse. The most important elements of a healthy lifestyle are also the most basic. These are proper nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep and meaningful social connection.


Nutrition - A Healthy Part of Recovery

Proper Nutrition and Hydration

Nutrition and hydration are key to the substance abuse healing process because they help restore physical and mental health and improve the chance of recovery. Macro- and micronutrient deficiencies can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low energy, all of which can lead someone to start using drugs or alcohol or trigger a relapse.


Before detoxification, neurotransmitters are decreased due to poor nutrition and altered amino acid absorption and utilization. This leaves addicts feeling depressed, agitated, and unregulated early in recovery. It's thought that these imbalances disappear over weeks but may last as long as one year after an addict becomes sober.


For some, mood and behavioural abnormalities may have been present before the substance abuse. With proper diagnosis of any possible underlying mental health disorders, a healthful diet and education on how nutrition influences mood and brain chemistry, recovery can be enhanced.

An understanding of how food affects mood and the risk of substance abuse begins with macronutrients. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy; without this macronutrient, the brain can't properly function, blood sugar becomes unstable, and neurotransmitters become disrupted. Unstable blood sugar can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and cravings.


Then folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 help the synthesis of tryptophan to serotonin. Ensuring adequate intake of carbohydrates and tryptophan-rich foods, such as dairy and meats, helps stabilize these reactions.


Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, also are the foundation of neurotransmitters. Low levels of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, can trigger an individual to turn to substances to feel better, as most substances markedly impact the body's dopamine levels. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine, and serotonin is made from tryptophan. If an individual lacks either of these amino acids, synthesis of the respective neurotransmitter is disrupted, which affects mood, aggression, and the desire for drugs or alcohol.


Dietary fat also plays a role in maintaining mental health. Because it affects inflammation and cell membrane integrity, limiting dietary fat directly influences mood. Omega-3 fatty acid consumption may help with depression by assisting in the uptake of neurotransmitters and decreasing inflammation. Having a proper balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids helps neurotransmitter receptors function, which in turn helps increase the amount of neurotransmitters that can be active in the brain.


Drinking adequate amounts of hydrating fluids also will help to manage mood while ensuring adequate absorption of any medications taken to prevent side effects from withdrawal or underlying psychiatric disorders. Common symptoms of dehydration include irritability, trouble concentrating, and disorientation. Dehydration also commonly results from detoxification, so monitoring daily intake and output values will help determine appropriate fluid intake recommendations.


Caffeine intake should be monitored, as it triggers the same reward centres of the brain as substances and can markedly impact anxiety and sleep. Low caffeine intake and smoking cessation have been shown to improve long-term sobriety for all addictions.


Exercise - A Healthy Part of Recovery

Exercise

Apart from the obvious and well-known physical benefits of exercise, we have also learned that regular exercise has a significant positive impact on mental health.


Most of us find that a sunny walk or trip to the gym improves our mood in the short term. Exercise is well known to stimulate the body to produce endorphins and encephalin, the body’s natural feel-good hormones which can make problems seem more manageable. The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from current concerns and damaging self-talk. Further, depending on the activity, people may benefit from calming exercises, be energized, and get outside or interact with others, all of which are known to improve mood and general health.


However, the idea that physical exercise might do something fundamental for mental health is less immediately obvious—especially given the Western distinction between "mind" and "body" that implies mental and physical health can be separated.


Increasingly robust evidence suggests that exercise is not only necessary for the maintenance of good mental health but it can be used to treat even chronic mental illness. For example, it is now clear that exercise reduces the likelihood of depression and also maintains mental health as we age. On the treatment side, exercise appears to be as good as existing pharmacological interventions across a range of conditions, such as mild to moderate depression, dementia, and anxiety, and even reduces cognitive issues in schizophrenia.


Put simply: Exercise directly affects the brain. Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions—in part through better blood supply that improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients; and through an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signalling, growth, and connections.


Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus—an area of the brain involved in memory, emotion regulation, and learning. Studies in other animals show convincingly that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis), with preliminary evidence suggesting this is also true in humans.


Evidence is accumulating that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The evidence is particularly strong for depression. Interestingly, many anti-depressants—that were once thought to work through their effects on the serotonin system—are now known to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus.


Psychiatrist Madhukar Trivedi has shown that three or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or resistance training, for 45 to 60 minutes per session, can help treat even chronic depression. Effects tend to be noticed after about four weeks (which incidentally is how long neurogenesis takes), and training should be continued for 10-12 weeks for the greatest anti-depressant effect.


Social Connection - A Healthy Part of Recovery

Social Connection

“Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.” - Susan Pinker


Addiction or Substance Use Disorder destroys our ability to have deep, meaningful social connections. Although most substance use starts as a social activity, the progressive nature of the disease always leads to social isolation. When we reach the stage of dependence, our entire lives become centred around our substance and the most meaningful connection we have is with our drug of choice.


Human beings are inherently social creatures. As far back as we can trace, humans have travelled, hunted, and thrived in social groups and for good reason. Humans who were separated from their tribe often suffered severe consequences. Social groups provide us with an important part of our identity, and more than that, they teach us a set of skills that help us to live our lives. Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important than ever. The benefits of social connectedness shouldn’t be overlooked.


  • Improve your quality of life: If you’ve ever moved away from your social “home base” then you have a good idea of just how much social connections shape your everyday life and well-being. One study showed that social connection is a greater determinant of health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Social connection doesn’t necessarily mean physically being present with people in a literal sense, but someone’s subjective experience of feeling understood and connected to others. One scale that experts use to determine a person’s subjective level of loneliness is the UCLA Loneliness Scale.


  • Boost your mental health: Friendships offer many mental health benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, and purpose, increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, and improved self-worth and confidence.


  • Help you live longer: Research has shown that social connections not only impact your mental health but your physical health as well. A review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that the individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. This remained true across several factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death.


  • Decrease your risk of suicide: Many factors put people at higher or lower risk for suicide. One of these factors is connectedness, which the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) defines as “The degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated or shares resources with other persons or groups.” Relationships can play a crucial role in protecting a person against suicidal thoughts and behaviours.


  • Reconnecting: If you’re not sure how to begin forming social connections start by looking inward. What are your interests or hobbies? What kind of personalities are you naturally comfortable around? Devote time to becoming active in your community, volunteering, or joining a club or social organization and if you meet a potential friend, create an opportunity to spend time together.


A great place for people suffering from substance use disorder to reconnect is at recovery fellowships/support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Project Exodus, Heal, or any other fellowship group where people with similar problems and similar goals get together for social support.


References:

Spiegel K, et al. Impact of Sleep Debt on Metabolic and Endocrine Function, Lancet. 1999 Oct 23: 354(9188): 1435-9.

Meier-Ewert HK, et al. Effect of Sleep Loss on C-reactive Protein, an Inflammatory Marker of Cardiovascular Risk, J Am Coll Cardiol. 2004 Feb 18; 43(4): 678-83.


Summary:

Delve into the critical aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle during addiction recovery. Uncover the significance of proper nutrition and hydration in the healing process, addressing macro- and micronutrient deficiencies. Explore the positive impact of exercise on mental health, understanding its role in treating various conditions. Learn how social connections contribute to long-term recovery, providing essential support. Embrace a holistic approach to enhance your overall well-being. For comprehensive recovery support, contact us or visit our site.

Role of Proper Nutrition and Hydration:

Importance: Nutrition and hydration are crucial in the substance abuse healing process, aiding in the restoration of physical and mental health.

Connection to Mental Health: Deficiencies in macro- and micronutrients can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, potentially triggering substance use or relapse.

Neurotransmitter Balance: Proper nutrition, including carbohydrates, folic acid, B6, B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, influences neurotransmitter synthesis, helping stabilize mood and reduce cravings.

Exercise for Physical and Mental Health:

Social Connection as a Protective Factor:

The Progressive Nature of Addiction:

Significance of Reconnection:

Reconnecting Through Support Groups:

This structured summary highlights the key points from the blog, emphasizing the interplay between nutrition, exercise, social connection, and mental health in the context of recovery from addiction.

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