Exercise 'High' Might Suppress Drug Craving, Study Says

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shutterstock_391517809 Physical activity via Shutterstock

Researchers are trying to zero in on the optimal dose of exercise that could alleviate addiction among methamphetamine users.

To that end, according to preliminary results of an ongoing study from UCLA, heavy meth addicts who exercised at least three hours per week reported reduced feelings of compulsion. And objective data showed these individuals to have lower levels of the drug in their system.

The mechanism responsible for feeling better is likely linked to the theoretical effects of exercise on dopamine secretion in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical known as a neurotransmitter, which is closely tied with emotion, cognition and gratification. When dopamine is released it produces an euphoric feeling, making individuals more inclined to repeat whatever behavior produced the effect. Physical activity is — hypothetically — one of these behaviors. Unfortunately, so is using meth.

So, can exercise alone temper a meth addiction, in some fashion?

The euphoric state after a long bout of exercise (aka the “runner’s high”), for example, has been theorized among doctors, physiologists and exercise enthusiasts. And there’s even evidence to support that it’s more than just a theory.

Still, physical activity certainly can play an important role based on these findings. And researchers agree that an integrated approach to treatment that includes exercise would be beneficial.

“I think a regular fitness program combined with some other type of behavioral therapy would be very helpful,” said Edyth London of UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, in an interview with ABC News affiliate KABC in Los Angeles. She's studying the meth-exercise connection.

Intervention approaches need to be tailored to the individual and will vary depending on the severity of addiction. And there's much more research needed to specify exactly what prescription of exercise — in terms of mode, type and intensity — would be most effective in curbing meth use.

Meanwhile, exercise in general, seems top be having a pretty good week.

In a similar, yet unrelated report from the Associated Press, doctors treating chronic health conditions — diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease — are increasingly prescribing exercise for their patients and urging them to think of physical activity as their new “medication.”

Exercise as medicine has been gaining popularity in recent years, as scientists continue to explore the link between physical activity and greater physical and mental health. The American College of Sports Medicine — which bills itself as the world’s leading organization related to sports medicine and science — recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to both prevent, and aid in, the treatment of chronic illness.

There's compelling evidence to say that the benefits of regular exercise are widespread. And these two examples — as an aid in drug addiction, and chronic disease management — speak to the power of it.