Aerobic Exercise Boosts Alcoholism Treatment
Doctors and public health officials have long noted the benefits of aerobic exercise for the average person’s mental and physical well-being. In a study published in July 2014 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers from five U.S. universities explored the benefits of aerobic exercise for people affected by alcoholism. These researchers concluded that aerobic exercise can substantially improve the drinking behaviors of such individuals and also increase the effectiveness of primary alcoholism treatment.
All people with diagnosable cases of alcoholism have a physical dependence on the ongoing consumption of alcohol; as a rule, such dependence stems from prolonged, recurring exposure to excessive alcohol intake. In addition, people affected by the condition have related problems that commonly include an inability to curb drinking participation, rising tolerance to the brain- and body-altering effects of any given amount of alcohol and the advent of withdrawal symptoms when an accustomed level of alcohol intake is not maintained. Modern science recognizes that the symptoms of alcoholism commonly appear in combination with the symptoms of alcohol abuse found in people who don’t have a physical compulsion to keep drinking. For this reason, guidelines currently in effect in the U.S. ask doctors to diagnose both alcoholism and non-addicted alcohol abuse as aspects of single condition, called alcohol use disorder. Some people with this condition have simultaneous symptoms of each alcohol-related problem, while others only have symptoms of alcoholism or only have symptoms of non-addicted abuse.
Depending on the intensity of the motions involved, aerobic activity falls into one of three categories: light, moderate and heavy or vigorous. As a rule, light activities don’t provide enough exercise intensity to produce a substantial aerobic benefit. However, the physical changes required to support moderate or heavy aerobic activity substantially improve the overall health of the lungs, the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) system and the body’s major muscles. Common examples of moderate aerobic exercises or activities include fast walking, bike-riding on fairly flat terrain and cutting grass with a push mower. Common examples of vigorous exercises or activities include jogging, bike-riding on mostly hilly terrain, running and doing laps in a pool. Public health officials in the U.S. issue recommendations on moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise participation for both children and adults.
In the study published the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers from Brown University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and three other universities used a small-scale project to investigate the usefulness of aerobic exercise for people affected by alcoholism. All of this project’s 48 enrollees had diagnosable symptoms of alcoholism and led a physically inactive lifestyle. Twenty-five of these individuals participated in three months of moderate aerobic exercise conducted in a group setting. The remaining enrollees received advice on the benefits of aerobic exercise, but did not participate in organized exercise.
After the three-month period came to a close, the researchers compared the drinking-related outcomes of the group that participated in aerobic exercise to the drinking-related outcomes of the group that only received exercise advice. They concluded that, compared to the non-exercisers, the exercisers experienced a meaningful decline in the number of days on which they consumed any amount of alcohol, as well as a meaningful decline in the number of days on which they consumed alcohol to excess. The researchers also concluded that participation in aerobic exercise increased the effectiveness of other treatments the enrollees received for their alcoholism. In addition, they concluded that exercising in a group setting apparently led to more positive alcohol-related outcomes than exercising in other settings.
The study’s authors undertook their project, in part, in response to the relative lack of information on the alcoholism-related benefits of aerobic exercise. They found that, overall, participation in moderate forms of this exercise in a group setting appears to have clear usefulness as part of a larger course of treatment for alcoholism. In addition, they believe that the benefits of aerobic exercise in alcoholism treatment may go up when recovery programs find ways to increase client/patient compliance with exercise objectives.