Fitness & Nutrition for Mental Health

Fitness & Nutrition for People in Recovery

Fitness and nutrition are both essential parts of physical and mental health. Consider the body to be a machine; the type of fuel that you put into it matters, as does the proper usage to keep parts moving and in good shape. When in recovery from addiction, making that machine run well again is part of a holistic treatment approach.

Fitness in Mental Health

Exercise has several physical benefits, such as the improvement of your physical condition and fighting off disease. This is why physicians have always encouraged physical activity. Exercise goes beyond the physical, however; it is further considered vital for the maintenance of mental fitness and the reduction of stress.

Studies show that exercise is highly effective for reducing fatigue while enhancing concentration and alertness. It improves cognitive function overall. When stress, anxiety, or the struggle with addiction has worn away the ability to concentrate, this is especially helpful.

What scientists have discovered is that routine involvement in aerobic exercises decreases levels of tension while stabilizing your mood after elevating it. Your sleep and self-esteem also improve with these activities. Even five minutes of aerobic involvement can start the stimulation of anti-anxiety effects.

Fitness in Addiction Recovery

According to studies about other treatments for recovery from addiction, exercise shows promise. Studies on animals have shown that a regular swimming regimen reduces the voluntary consumption of morphine in opioid-dependent rats. They have also revealed that exercise wheel access reduces rats’ self-administration of cocaine when they are dependent on that drug.

Many patients who have experience with substance use disorders discover that exercise aids in distraction from cravings. Workouts also create structure in the hours that can seem to stretch out meaninglessly in a day. When you do not work out solo, you also create positive social connections. These elements, along with the positive chemicals that your brain rewards you with when you exercise, aid in recovery from addiction.

Working Out Regularly

There are five areas of health-related fitness. These are the endurance of your cardiovascular system, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Proper regular workouts involve all five aspects of fitness.

The benefits of performing regular physical activity include stronger muscles, joints, and bones; lower blood pressure and cholesterol; reduced risks of heart attacks, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers; and simply feeling better with elevated moods and energy levels. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or the ADAA, exercise can work as well as some medications to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing them with long-lasting effects.


CrossFit improves general fitness by taking a three-dimensional body and focuses on a single plane of motion, which can create imbalances in strength.

One of CrossFit’s key elements is motivation in the class environment. People find it easier to come together regularly and to exercise when they are cheering each other on. This also includes an ingrained component of competition that may help you to push yourself to impressive results.

Boot Camp

The armed forces have been experimenting with boot camp alterations by adding in Pilates and yoga; fitness buffs have meanwhile been moving from Pilates and yoga to sign up for traditional boot camp workouts. These build endurance, strength, and agility in a challenging routine. Boot camp workouts vary, but they mix intense elements of aerobic moves, speed segments, and strength training.

In general, you can expect such basic calisthenics as push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, and lunges. Drills and sprints feature highly as well. Boot camp workouts basically fit into the category of interval training with intense bursts of activity that alternate with intervals of lighter moves.

Individual Exercise Regimens

To maintain health as well as reduce the risk of health problem, health professionals recommend at least 30 minutes each day of physical activities that are moderate in intensity. You should strive to reach this goal most, if not all, days of the week. Start slow, however, if you have not had a regular fitness regimen.

Start with the principle that performing any physical activity at all is better than doing nothing. Work on being active most days of the week, building up to being active every day. Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. You can also mix it up by combining the two levels at the right ratio. At least twice a week, work on activities that are good for strengthening your muscles.

Running for Fitness

Humans are structured for running; in fact, your hips and feet are shaped for it, the length of your legs is ideal for it, your spinal discs absorb shocks from it efficiently, and your ability to sweat makes running mile after mile just as possible for you as it was for your distant ancestors. Perhaps this is why running has so many benefits for the brain and body.

Running improves aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health, and it builds strength. Growing accustomed to the activity can be extremely difficult, but once you have become adjusted to it, running can be meditative. It lifts your mood, improves your knee health, helps you to sleep better at night and to focus in the day, and fights cognitive decline that is related to aging. Just 30 minutes of the activity each day is great for fighting depression and anxiety.


Yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years. It burns calories, tones muscles, and combines meditation with deep breathing. Yoga can get a bit confusing for beginners as there are more than 100 different forms of the activity. It can be relaxing and gentle or intense and fast-paced.

When most people refer to yoga, they mean Hatha. It combines basic sets of movements with proper breathing. Overall, yoga targets the core, the arms, the legs, the glutes, and the back. It is not aerobic, but it does aid with flexibility and strength.

Nutrition and Mental Health

Scientists are steadily proving the old saying that you are what you eat. A healthy gut is an essential working part of a healthy body; the fuel that goes into operating the body plays a large role in overall health that is mental as well as physical.

Oily Fish

Fish has long been called good food for the brain. This is because of DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid that helps improve both short-term and long-term memory. It also contributes to optimal health for your brain and boosts feelings of mental wellness, reducing anxiety levels. If you do not favor oily fish such as trout, salmon, or prawns, a fish oil supplement can suffice.


A great snack for antioxidants, berries assist in the repair of cells and combat inflammation. Whether you prefer blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries, you can benefit from antioxidants that help reduce symptoms associated with both depression and anxiety. Blueberries and strawberries have an added bonus; polyphenolic compounds can improve concentration, attention span, and memory.


Offering fiber and antioxidants, legumes and beans help you feel full longer, stabilizing your blood sugar and permitting you to burn greater amounts of energy. This is essential for proper mental health. These foods, which include chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils, also contain thiamine. This vitamin is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitter for memory, acetylcholine.

Raw Foods for Mood and Health

More fresh vegetables and fruits may be an easy first step on a clear path toward better long-term health. Studies reveal that, on top of physical benefits, eating more vegetables and fruits produces better mental health. Researchers over the past several decades have produced evidence that people with such fresh diets suffer fewer symptoms of stress, depression, and negativity overall.

At the University of Otago, located in New Zealand, researchers delved deeper and discovered that raw fruits and vegetables had better and more healthful effects than did those that were cooked, canned, or otherwise processed. The foods most associated with improved mental health included carrots; lettuce, spinach, and other dark leafy greens; cucumber; grapefruit and other citrus fruits; bananas; kiwifruit; and fresh berries.

Foods and Beverages to Avoid for Mental Wellness

  • Fruit juice – Without the fiber of the whole fruit, you are simply drinking sugar water with nutrients. It offers a quick hype-up and a letdown that is just as swift.
  • Regular soda – Much like fruit juice but without the nutrients, sugar-sweetened drinks are linked to depression.
  • Diet soda – These drinks lack the sugar but do not lack the link to depression.
  • White toast – White flour quickly turns to blood sugar upon consumption, creating energy spikes followed by crashes; use whole-grain bread instead.
  • Frosting – The sugar and trans fats in each serving are linked to depression. Check labels for trans fats or hydrogenated oils. To lift your mood, you want foods with good fat like those found in nuts, olive oil, and fish.
  • Processed foods – A diet heavy in processed meat, refined cereals, pastries, candy, fried food, and high-fat dairy products is likely to create a mood that is more depressed or anxious.

Some foods are more specifically linked to anxiety and insomnia than to a mix of depression and anxiety. These everyday foods have chemical triggers to make you jittery and mess with your sleep. The following foods fit into this category.


Plants within this family produce a natural type of pesticide called a glycoalkaloid. It kills predators such as worms and insects and is also toxic to human cells. This pesticide results in the overstimulation of your nervous system if you are a sensitive individual. Anxiety is just one documented side effect. Nightshades include potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.


Caffeine is a well-known adversary when it comes to studies of sleep and anxiety. Caffeine can trigger stress hormone levels and panic attacks. It keeps you awake by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain; these are the receptors that promote sleep. Even five hours after consuming it, half of the caffeine remains in your bloodstream and can get in the way of a proper night’s sleep. It actually takes up to a full day for the substance to completely exit your system.

Aged or Fermented Foods

To turn beef, grapes, cabbage, or milk into gourmet items such as aged steak, merlot, kimchi, or brie, you let it ferment after adding bacteria to it. During that process, food proteins are broken into biogenic amines. These collect while the food ages. The most important is histamine, which is a powerful neurotransmitter. It can aggravate your digestive, cardiovascular, hormonal, and nervous systems, causing insomnia and anxiety in susceptible individuals. It increases adrenaline levels as well.

What to eat in recovery:

  • Whole foods with tyrosine – The precursor to dopamine, this amino acid is low in early recovery. Find it in bananas, sunflower seeds, whole grains, cheese, and soybeans.
  • Whole foods with L-glutamine – With immune and antioxidant benefits, this can help in the reduction of sugar cravings as well. Beets, carrots, celery, eggs, carrots, beef, chicken, and fish contain it.
  • Whole foods with antioxidants – These help rebuild the immune system after addiction-related damage, speeding the body’s cleansing. Find it in berries, artichokes, onions, and pecans.
  • Whole foods with tryptophan – This essential amino acid promotes a happy, positive mood. Find it in turkey, pork, tuna fish, oat bran, lentils, and beans.

The body is a delicate machine that involves a lot of moving parts and interplays of chemicals to keep things functioning on an even keel. Physical and mental health are the result of fueling that machinery properly and keeping it moving with both proper fitness and nutrition. Here at NFA Behavioral Health, our holistic approach to recovery incorporates overall health that includes nutritious meals prepared by a chef as well as meditation and yoga.

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