Exercise to Fight Addiction


“Eat sensibly, get plenty of rest and exercise.” That’s the recipe we hear over and over again to lead a healthy life.

Too simple for most of us, but solid advice nevertheless. And for those looking to kick an addiction, the last on that list may be the secret weapon they need.

Exercising can produce a 'healthy high' and reduce cravings

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, exercise is finding a place in addiction treatment – with science to back it up.

Strenuous exercise triggers some of the same brain mechanisms – referred to as “neurobiological rewards” – that give us drug highs. And if this “healthy high” can replace some of the cravings and rewards addicts get from using drugs, it might be the difference between staying clean and sober and slipping into relapse.

What kind of exercise?

Well, running seems to have the most credibility here. It can be running on a treadmill or a street, but the idea is the same – tap into a kind of evolutionary incentive and our body’s design. We are, after all, a species that once chased down our meals and ran from predators.

The anecdotes in the Trib article are compelling. An alcoholic who couldn’t stay clean until he discovered the power of marathon running – not just the race, but the training too. They spoke to the founder of Racing for Recovery, himself a recovering addict who spent 13 years lost in addiction. Todd Crandell started with weightlifting and moved on to compete in dozens of triathlons.

"At 26 I quit everything all at once," Crandell said of going cold turkey. "It was after my third DUI. I blew a 0.36 at noon." He credits exercise, along with treatment, as critical to his recovery.

Just 30 minutes a day can keep marijuana use at bay

The experimental evidence mentioned is almost as interesting as the success stories. When researchers had chronic marijuana smokers use a treadmill for just a half-hour a day (10 times over two weeks), they cut their use in half – not because they wanted to quit, but just because the urge to smoke went down.

So the old advice is still the best advice, and we keep rediscovering what we already knew: Eat right, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.


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