Running Laps as an Alternative to Relapse

It's known physical exercise can reduce tobacco cravings. Now, a systematic review shows its benefits in treating different types of substance use.


Substance use disorder (SUD) affects millions of people worldwide, including 1.6 million Canadians. SUD refers to the inability to control the use of various substances, such as alcohol, hallucinogens, opioids, and tobacco; or being dependent on the daily consumption of a substance to function, even though the individual knows the substance is causing them harm.

Unfortunately, treatments for SUD have not been very effective, with 50% of patients relapsing. Treatments like detoxification, residential treatment programs, and outpatient facilities have been tested, but there’s still a need for successful and affordable interventions.

Previous research has shown that brief physical activity can reduce tobacco craving symptoms. However, most studies on SUD and physical activity have focused on tobacco exclusively, even though many people have multiple SUD. This led researchers from the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières and the University of Montreal to conduct a systematic review of physical activity interventions for adults undergoing SUD treatment for all psychoactive substances except tobacco.

Their recent review article included 43 experimental and observational studies that assessed the effects of physical activity on SUD treatment in adults (18 years or older). They found that moderate-intensity jogging and resistance training were the most effective types of physical activity for SUD treatment.

Additionally, patients demonstrated improvements in depression and anxiety in most studies. This is a significant finding, since major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are common in people who suffer from an SUD.

Most importantly, the studies showed a reduction in patients’ substance use at the end of treatment when physical activity was performed, regardless of the substance. Moreover, patients in most of the studies reported improvements in their health-related quality of life and sleep quality.

The results of this systematic review are promising, and suggest that physical activity can be a successful intervention for SUD treatment. While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between physical activity and SUD treatment, this review offers hope for those seeking effective and accessible treatments for SUD.

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Alexandria (Alex) Samson is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto. She completed her BSc in Neuroscience from Dalhousie University. Alex is a strong believer in open science and is passionate about making scientific research accessible to all audiences.