Several recent studies reveal that engaging in regular aerobic exercise can prove extremely beneficial during addiction recovery. In fact, during clinical studies, regular exercise was shown to reduce self-administration of substances.

Rats avoid aberrant neurogenesis

One study used rats to examine how exercise might affect recovery from substance abuse. Rats were administered methamphetamine for five days, with increasingly large doses. The rats ultimately suffered from attenuated meth-induced neurotoxicity: the substance had caused significant damage to their brains.

After the damage had been sustained, one group of rats were placed in sedentary housing, while another group was allowed to exercise by voluntarily running in exercise wheels. In the group of rats that remained sedentary, the negative effects caused by the ingestion of meth were preserved. By contrast, the rats that took part in the voluntary exercise were somewhat protected against the negative effects, as the exercise lead to a strengthening of the brain-blood barrier and increased neural differentiation.

The power of aerobic exercise

Meanwhile, another study from 2012 examined evidence gathered during preclinical studies and determined that individuals who took part in consistent aerobic exercise were not as likely to use or abuse illicit substances. The study examined how people performed in situations designed to mimic the various stages (and transitions between stages) of substance abuse and addiction recovery. Ultimately, the study concluded that regular exercise produced a protective effect against substance abuse.

The study provides several possible explanations as to why those who take part in regular aerobic exercise benefit from effects that protect against substance abuse. The first theory states that there is a causal decrease in substance abuse when an individual engages in regular exercise since the activity of exercise becomes a time-consuming alternative to using. This theory stipulates that exercise acts as a non-drug enforcer and that it allows for the development of functional neuroadaptations, which in turn decrease a person’s susceptibility to addiction and substance abuse.

The second theory advanced by the study is also causal, but in the opposite direction: it postulates that the more an individual abuses substances, the less time they will have available to take part in other activities, including exercise. Because the addiction will reduce the individual’s discretionary income and time, they simply will not have the opportunity to engage in recreation activities, including regular aerobic exercise.

According to a third theory, an external factor could affect the likelihood that an individual will regularly engage in exercise, while simultaneously having an effect on an individual’s propensity to engage in substance abuse. This common factor might be an underlying personality trait possessed by the individual, or it might have arisen from an influence in the person’s home environment.

The report stresses that these three possible explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive and that further treatment is required in order to determine whether an exercise-based intervention might prove to be a more effective method of intervention than other techniques.

Teenage athletes support the conclusion

A third recent study, which used data from the Monitoring the Future survey to examine the relationship between adolescent athletes and addiction, determined that teenagers who engaged in regular exercise were less likely to engage in substance abuse than their non-exercising counterparts. Once again, the study suggests that… (continue reading)