Exercise: A Proven Way To Stay Clean

Brazilian researchers found that exercise can reduce the incidence of drug relapse after addiction in a study published in Behavioral Brain Research in April 2014.

Previous research has provided evidence for the benefits of exercise, ranging from decreased rates of anxiety and depression, to increased cognitive processing.  Studies have also shown that exercise can be beneficial in preventing and reversing drug addiction.  The researchers in Burger’s lab wanted to delve into the less-studied area of drug relapse.

Many people who have suffered from drug addiction themselves, or who have watched others battle with drug addiction, know that even after the cycle of addiction has been broken, the potential for relapse is high.  Therefore, targeting the prevention of relapse is extremely important to ameliorate the lives of those who have recovered from drug addiction.

Swimming, and other forms of exercise, can be used as a cheap, fun, and effective way to prevent relapse after drug addiction


Burger’s lab used rats to study the effects of exercise on relapse.  In the beginning of the experiment, the animals were exposed to amphetamine to induce drug addiction.  Then, for 5 weeks the animals were not given access to amphetamine, and thus experienced a period of withdrawal. During the 5 weeks of abstinence, half of the rats were exposed to 1 hour swimming sessions for 5 days a week.  The other half of the rats weren’t exposed to any sort of exercise during this time.  In humans and animals, discontinuing amphetamine-like substances after chronic use leads to anxiety-like and depressive behaviors.  During the period of withdrawal, the rats that were exposed to an exercise routine showed fewer signs of anxiety than those who did not have the benefit of exercise.

At the end of the 5 weeks of abstinence, the rats were re-exposed to amphetamine and tested for symptoms of relapse.  The animals that had performed exercise showed fewer symptoms of relapse and anxiety than the rats that weren’t exposed to exercise during drug abstinence.

Additionally, exercise seemed to be able to maintain some of the brain functioning that is damaged as a result of abusing amphetamine-like substances.  This shows that not only does exercise have a positive influence on behavior, but it also physically changes certain regions of the brain.  While exercise has already proven to be useful in preventing drug addiction, the research by Burger’s lab shows that exercise could also be used to prevent relapse from occurring.

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Source:Segat, H. J., Kronbauer, M., Roversi, K. R., Schuster, A. J., Vey, L. T., Roversi, K., … & Burger, M. E. (2014). Exercise modifies amphetamine relapse: Behavioral and oxidative markers in rats. Behavioural Brain Research.

About Lydia Marks