How Working Out Can Help You in Working Through Addiction

The “gains” of working out just increased. A new study published by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the journal ACS Omega shows that addicts who exercise may be less likely to relapse.

The study, entitled “Exploring Exercise- and Context-Induced Peptide Changes in Mice by Quantitative Mass Spectrometry,” specifically dealt with how exercise can reduce the likelihood of addicts obeying their personal cues to use addictive substances.

According to EurekAlert, these cues can take the form of environments where the addict habitually engaged in drug use, or people whom the addict took drugs with. Some cues are so powerful that they can even cause fully-recovered addicts to fall off the wagon.

While exercise has been known to weaken the connection in the brain between drug-related triggers and the feelings of pleasure elicited by drug use, the scientific reason behind it remains unknown. However, after this study, scientists may have a better understanding of what makes exercise an effective preventative measure for relapse.

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Dowd et. al. conducted this study using mice, distinctive floors, running wheels, and, of course, cocaine. First, scientists injected the mice with cocaine over the course of four days in a chamber with distinctively-textured floors. The mice were then moved from the chamber and placed in separate cages. Some mice were placed in cages with running wheels, while others were placed in cages without running wheels. After 30 days, the mice were placed back in the chamber where they had received their cocaine injections.

Researchers found that the mice demonstrated varying peptide levels based on whether or not they had exercised during the 30-day period, with active mice showing less peptide production than sedentary mice. They also discovered that the mice’s peptide levels correlated with the mice’s preference for cocaine.

This is significant because peptide production in the brain is believed to affect conditioning, or the association of one phenomenon (like a distinctive floor) with another phenomenon (like the rewarding sensations of drug use). More specifically, peptides related to myelin, hemoglobin, and actin are respectively associated with long-term memories, cell-signalling in the brain, and learning.

Based on these results, scientists concluded that mice with less peptide production were less likely to see a connection between the environmental cue of distinctively-textured floors, and the pleasing sensations brought on by the cocaine use. Therefore, the mice who had exercised had less preference for the cocaine-associated environment than the mice who hadn’t exercised.  

Through this study, scientists get one step closer to understanding how addiction works, and how exercise can be used to help counteract it; in addition to providing a positive routine and an outlet for stress, exercise helps people in recovery by reducing their levels of peptide production, and thus reducing the effect of potentially dangerous triggers.