There have been many types of research on the positive effects of exercise in addiction recovery. But with few guidelines on what type of exercise and just how much time you should spend at the gym, recommendations have been a hit and miss affair.

However, a new research from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, led by Dr. Panayotis Thanos, Ph.D., gave a new peek into the minimum amount of exercise one needs to help prevent a relapse of cocaine addiction. The findings? One hour on the treadmill at just five times a week.

Thanos, the senior research scientist, noted that prolonged use of cocaine will change the individual’s response to any type of stress. The changes in the system are all-encompassing as they affect the neural, psychological, and behavioral environments.

However, after studying the behaviors of lab rats, they found that exercise modifies parts of the brain, particularly the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. Although you may not recognize it, it’s actually associated with the brain’s reward system targeted by illicit drugs like cocaine. There are other benefits of exercise, as well, since generally, it helps cut down stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues triggered by withdrawal.

This is certainly not the first time that research was made on the positive effects of exercise for the recovering cocaine dependent. In May 2011, a research called “on The Effects of Aerobic Exercise Cocaine Self-Administration in Male and Female Rats” was published, which showed how exercise drastically cut down the incidents of cocaine use in the rodents.

In that experiment, the lab rats were grouped into two. The first group was housed in a cage with no running wheel, while the second had one. After six weeks, the rats with no exercise self-administered copious amounts of cocaine compared to the controlled group that spent more time at the running wheel.

What is the Rate of Relapse for Cocaine?

The biggest danger of cocaine relapse is the period between one and six months after the individual has completed the treatment plan of the rehab center. There’s really no study that pinpoints a specific relapse rate for a cocaine dependent. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated the relapse rate on drug addiction ranges between 40% and 60%. Again, the vulnerable period is within one year after abstinence. The tipping point for recovery, meanwhile, is about five years. At which point, there’s almost zero chance that the individual will go back to using drugs.

Cocaine is one of the most commonly abused drugs. The World Drug Report in 2014 estimated that more than 17 million people around the world have a cocaine addiction problem. In the US, the prevalence of cocaine use for people 12 age and older is around 14%.

However, people who abuse cocaine tend to also abuse alcohol and opioids, as well, which only compounds the treatment plan.

There are several factors that may contribute to the relapse and among these are

  • 1. Stress will significantly increase the likelihood of the individual going back to his old habits.
  • 2. If the recovering cocaine-dependent is mingling with the same crowd, which exposes him to the same temptations.
  • 3. The misplaced confidence that they can control their use the next time since they’ve already been to a treatment center.
  • 4. Doesn’t follow through with the aftercare programs (group counseling, 12-step, sober living, etc.) recommended by the treatment center.
  • 5. They don’t have an effective fallback plan in order to avoid a relapse.
  • 6. They think that using cocaine just one time after abstinence won’t cause any harm.

Why Type of Exercise is Needed?

Thanos recommended just the regular aerobic exercise or cardio to help prevent cocaine relapse. One positive outcome of cardio is that it has been found to be an effective measure against health problems like diabetes, heart diseases, and arthritis.

With cardio, you don’t even have to spend money on the gym. There are many aerobic exercises that you can do outdoors such as hiking, brisk walking, jogging, swimming, and running. The first week would be brutal, especially if your body has been used to the sedentary lifestyle and your system is wrecked by cocaine abuse. However, after a couple of weeks, your body will get so used to doing cardio exercises that your day won’t be complete without it.

While Thanos said that they proved how regular aerobic exercise can be a complementary therapy to treat cocaine addiction and prevent a relapse, they can’t say for sure whether it’s an effective method for the other drugs, as well. While the theory holds water as far as logic is concerned, science does need some proof. He said they need more research involving other opioids to determine a relationship between exercise and relapse prevention.