an eight-week intervention and were given weekly rewards for substance-free physical activity. Follow-up examinations were conducted two months and six months after the intervention.
“These individuals became more health-focused,” Weinstock said. “They recognized the role of exercising in becoming healthier and they also recognized the ways in which drinking may be detrimental to their health.”
Overall, all participants showed a substantial increase in exercise frequency during the clinical trial, but during the follow-up period, the frequency decreased.
“We also found reductions in drinking in those college students,” Weinstock said. “Unfortunately, when we looked at whether the changes in the exercise were responsible for the changes in drinking, we found that they weren’t significantly related to each other, which was really kind of puzzling to us.”
Personal experience and a lack of research
Weinstock initially became interested in studying the relationship between physical exercise and addiction treatment because of his own dedication to physical fitness and because there’s a limited amount of research on the topic.
“I got interested in exercise as an intervention for addiction because I am a runner,” he said. “I know a lot about how running affects my body. That was the determination, but I noticed that when you dig into the research literature, there are some stops along the way of really looking at exercise as a way to help people with addiction, and I think it has a lot of potentials. It’s a non-pharmacological approach and it’s something that just about everybody can do.”
Weinstock’s work highlights the importance of patient screening before exercise can be safely incorporated into addiction treatment, but he emphasizes that everyone can and should exercise.
“Exercise is good for all people, no matter where you are in terms of your physical health,” he added. “The question is ‘how much support and supervision do you need?’ For instance, someone who’s going through hip replacement surgery or has cardiovascular disease should definitely be supervised.”
Now, Weinstock is headed toward finding out more about what makes up substance use patterns in different populations and how physical exercise can be connected to the latest information about these patterns. “I think that many people with addiction don’t have a lot of positive things happening in their lives so exercise just provides a way for them to feel good. It’s almost a way to self-medicate. It’s substituting alcohol or whatever substance for exercise and that is great,” he said.